Maryland to receive federal funds for gang prevention

March 2, 2006, midnight | By Kathy Jee | 18 years, 4 months ago

$2.75 million goes to Latin American Youth Center and state prosecutors

The federal government has allocated $750,000 to a local community center to combat the county's growing gang presence after a strong effort on the part of state and local legislators to secure the financial support. The center will use the funds to expand various programs, including an after-school activity held at Blair.

The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) will receive the money from a $2.75 million federal appropriation to Maryland for gang-prevention programs. The money will be used by the LAYC, an organization that assists at-risk youth in the Washington, D.C., region, to fund its new expansion in the Maryland suburbs, the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC).

Helping troubled youth

With locations in Silver Spring and Langley Park in Prince George's County, the MMYC provides alternative activities for youth who would otherwise be prone to gang involvement. "A lot of the people who join gangs are alone — they have nothing else to do," said Gabriel Albornoz, deputy director of MMYC. "They don't take advantage of the resources their school gives them."

The MMYC plans to use the funds to expand its education, social services and job training programs, which include gang prevention, diversion and intervention, after-school and summer programs and computer and General Educational Development classes, according to Albornoz.

Also included in MMYC's plans is an after-school program at Blair starting this March that will consist of workshops and activities geared towards job skills training and connecting students to internships. "We're going to expose students to the careers out there. There's a lot more jobs that people might not be aware of," Albornoz explained.

The MMYC, which opened last October, will receive the funds this summer. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) submitted a proposal for the money after meeting with anti-gang organizations four months ago. "We were there, and I guess we impressed her with what we were doing," Albornoz said. "After doing some research of her own, she decided to support us in opening our centers in Maryland."

Mikulski announced the federal support at a Jan. 23 press conference. "This funding will help clean up our streets and fight the crime that is destroying our neighborhoods," she said.

Funding a statewide initiative

In addition to the $750,000 for LAYC, the state will receive $2 million to create a statewide anti-gang initiative to be directed through the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office. When the office receives the money, some of it will pay for interpreters to improve communication with gang members who do not speak English, according to Vickie LeDuc, spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office.

Money will also go towards strengthening the witness protection program throughout Maryland. In late 2004, Baltimore became nationally known for the "Stop Snitching" video, which features armed drug dealers from the city threatening anyone who reports them to the police. "There are several cases in which we have prosecuted people for intimidating witnesses," LeDuc said. The office has not made a final decision on how to distribute the money throughout the state.

A part of a spending bill that was signed into law last November, the funds have been a product of the efforts of state and local representatives. "Congressman Van Hollen, Senator Mikulski and Senator Sarbanes have been working very hard to secure these funds at a federal level for Maryland," said County Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring).

Fighting gangs in the county

Gang statistics in Montgomery County have started to become a cause for concern. "Right now, we've identified approximately 22 gangs that are operating in the county," said Sergeant Charles Welch, head of the Montgomery County Gang Prevention Task Force. "There are roughly 500 to 550 active members." Welch also noted that gangs have grown from neighborhood-based to more regionalized.

Last summer, two gang-related incidents occurred in Montgomery County, one at Springbrook and the other in the Target store at Wheaton Shopping Mall. With gang activity on the rise, community leaders and law enforcement officials have placed more attention on stopping gang involvement. "Montgomery County and other parts of the state are becoming more proactive before it becomes a significant public concern," said Edward Clarke, MCPS director of school safety and security. MCPS and the county government work closely on the issue of gangs and meet on a regular basis to discuss recommendations, according to Clarke.

In the past, the county has not been a frequent recipient of federal funds. "This is the first time I am aware of that the federal government has provided funds to our county to specifically fight gangs," Clarke said.

Resources from the state have also been allotted to support local gang initiatives. The state government has appropriated a $2 million grant to the Joint County Gang Prevention Task Force, which involves both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Montgomery County will use $550,000 of these funds to station six full-time gang officers in each district, according to Welch.

Funded by the County Council, the Blair Sports Academy (BSA) is an example of how the county puts into action strategies to lower gang involvement. "It's a great activity to keep the kids busy," Welch said.

The BSA and its success have caught the attention of MMYC. "We would definitely be interested in partnering with the BSA in the future," Albornoz said. "No one can do it alone."

Montgomery County will continue to intensify its fight against gangs with the federal and state funds it will receive. "We need to get ahead and adopt a holistic approach," Perez said. "Even one gang incident is too much."

Kathy Jee. Kathy Jee is a junior in the Magnet Program and is excited to be a part of the wonderful Silver Chips staff. When not in school, she enjoys playing basketball and obsessing over "American Idol." She is looking forward to another stressful year of school... More »

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