After recording no gang-related homicides in 2018, six of Montgomery County’s 15 homicides in 2019 were tied to gangs, according to the county’s lead prosecutor.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy presented the data at a County Council committee meeting last week and said he believes the lull in gang-related homicides in 2018 was an anomaly.
He said many local and federal investigators believe MS-13 gang members vowed to not commit homicides in 2018 because they felt any killings would pay homage to the 18th Street gang, which are two of the most prevalent in Montgomery County. The gangs have a “huge rivalry,” McCarthy said.
“There was some scuttlebutt about whether MS-13 took off 2018 in green lighting killings because they didn’t want to, in some backhanded way, pay a compliment to 18th Street by killing people in ‘18,” McCarthy said. “So, the question becomes was ‘18 a real number you can rely upon? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know … I’ll take zero every time regardless of whatever reason you want to tell me.”
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said homicides and crimes are labeled as “gang-related” if they involve a person involved with a gang, even if that crime wasn’t gang-motivated.
Overall, McCarthy said the majority of gang-related crime is committed by people younger than 22. In 2019, 65% of all known gang-related crime in which authorities identified suspects was committed by people younger than 22, including 82% of robberies.
There has been a “slight shift” in the geographic location of gang-related crime committed by youths since 2015, according to McCarthy’s presentation. Between 2015 and 2017, the crimes were primarily concentrated in the Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village areas, but since 2018, there has been more gang-related crime in Germantown and parts of Silver Spring.
McCarthy said that gang-related crime has remained stagnant in recent years, but prosecutors have reached more convictions.
“There is only so much the county can control when it comes to the gang issue, but I’m very proud of what has transpired in recent years,” County Council Member Gabe Albornoz said. “That’s not to say the work is complete. It probably, unfortunately, never will be, but we have a strong foundation from which to work from.”
After a spike in gang-related homicides in 2017 — there were eight compared to two the year prior — the County Council authorized an $850,000 budget appropriation to form a gang-prevention unit that operates within the county police department and state’s attorney’s office.
“The money you have given us, I cannot explain how much it has helped,” McCarthy said, noting that the staff can now listen to phone calls in the jail and monitor social media.
The unit and staff members in the state’s attorney’s office and police officers also work to build bonds with community members, McCarthy said. That is especially important to protect victims and witnesses who come forward to report gang-related crimes, he said.
McCarthy and Jones both said it is their offices’ policy to not ask victims and witnesses of their immigration status if they come forward to report a crime. McCarthy said anyone in his office who asked that question would be fired.
“That’s not important to us,” Jones said. “What’s important to us is that we’re protecting those folks to the best of our abilities and in communities that are vulnerable in many different ways. … There are people who will wholeheartedly go after people who they think are collaborating with law enforcement. We have to give them the confidence to know we will be there for them.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com
If MoCo360 keeps you informed, connected and inspired, circle up and join our community by becoming a member today. Your membership supports our community journalism and unlocks special benefits.