“We’re going after all gangs. Whether you’re Bloods, Crips, People Nation, Folk Nation, a Norteño or a Sureño, any of the wider gangs,” proclaimed Anne Arundel Chief of Police Timothy J. Altomare at a press conference on September 28th. He also listed Baltimore-based gangs such as Tree Top Piru, Bounty Hunter Bloods, and the Black Guerilla Family, as well as the former prison gang, Dead Man Inc.
The proclamation came as part of the county announcement of a Joint-Gang task force linking the Annapolis City police, Anne Arundel County police, and federal support through the FBI. The task force will utilize a larger police force with new recruits, have a bilingual component, and focus on shared communication at the city, state and federal level. They will be stepping up ground based community enforcement efforts, and will also be working with the State’s Attorney’s office’s new STING force (Strategic Targeted Enforcement on Narcotics and Gangs.)
Yet, despite the press conference including a discussion of many regional gangs, only one gang loomed large in the minds of the audience: Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13. The LA-originated gang has spread throughout Central America and across the United States. Questions arose about whether this gang was a concern of the task force, and whether they were involved in ongoing cases.
In particular, the community remains concerned about the disappearance of four local teens since 2015, three of which occurred in the summer of 2017. Javier Rodriguez, 18, was last seen at the Burger King on West St. in August of 2015. Jenny Rivera-Lopez, 21, was last seen in Melrob Ct, in June of 2017. Neris Bonilla-Palacios,17, went missing from Severn Island Ct. in August of 2017, and David Rivera, 16 was last seen on Janwall St in August of 2017.
When Chief Altomare was asked if these disappearances were related to gang activity and if they would be looked into by the task force, he said that they would be “working on all of it.”
He noted, “MS-13 is a violent gang so certainly that will be part of our efforts moving forward.”The county is aware of gangs and their recruitment efforts in the schools; leading a reporter to ask about an incident at Annapolis High School where a student had been beaten up for not joining MS 13.
On September 11th, a bilingual community meeting regarding gangs was held at Annapolis Middle School. The presenter, Hispanic Liaison Officer Joe Hudson, showed videos in English and Spanish detailing why people join gangs, along with a list of gang warning signs. Among the warning signs to look for are: if your child likes two specific colors only, carries a weapon, withdraws from family, has injuries to his/her hands and knuckles, and/or has unexplained injuries.Officer Hudson concluded, “Lo mas importante es poner tiempo en tus hijos” (the most important thing is to spend time with your kids).
To counter the heavy gang influence, Officer Hudson introduced his community outreach program, Joven Noble (Noble Youth). The program is targeted at middle school and high school students and focuses on teaching them “como hacer en la comunidad” (how to be a member of the community). The focus starts at the community level, but also goes into how to be a good family member, and a person of integrity.
Chief Altomare wants the Latino community to know, “We’re here to help you. We don’t care where you come from. If you’re being victimized, we’ll help you.”
Annapolis Chief of Police Scott Baker echoed the sentiment, saying, “We made it very clear to the Hispanic community that we are here for them, we don’t want them to be victims.” He ended by definitively declaring, “We are not serving civil warrants in Annapolis.”
County Executive Steve Schuh began the press briefing with the same reassuring tone, but confused the message toward the end, when he began discussing the county’s new 287g program for the final two minutes. 287g is a program that the County Executive voluntarily entered into with the federal government in order to assist with the federal ICE deportation efforts using county detention centers, resources, and personnel.
When a reporter pertinently asked about the costs of the joint gang task force, Schuh did not give specific costs.
Rebecca Forte is a concerned citizen living in Severna Park.