Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts says that the Black Guerrilla Family gang is spurring much of the recent violence in the city as it tries to expand its reach. 

Batts, who recently took over as commissioner after working 30 years on the West Coast, asked his commanders to draw up "conflict diagrams" so he could better understand the web of connections driving crime in Baltimore. 

He said those diagrams showed that the Black Guerrilla Family, a prison-based gang that has been growing on the streets, is behind much of the violence.

"I was told that what they're doing is expanding and taxing other gangs, basically franchising out," Batts said. "If [those gangs] don't want to franchise out, it leads to conflict, and that's been part of the problem in areas that are spiking."

Cops have told me in passing that though the Bloods and Crips get the name recognition, BGF is the city's gang that concerns authorities the most. Rarely though do police and prosecutors here discuss gangs openly, and it's been some time since I came across a charging document in a shooting or homicide where BGF was described as being a factor. But that may be because detectives have generally been increasingly scaling back the amount of information they list in charging documents, or because investigators haven't been able to bring formal charges in cases involving the BGF. 

The BGF gang was created in the 1960s in California, and was thrust into the spotlight in Maryland in 2009, when two dozen alleged members were indicted in federal court. The case highlighted flaws in the state prison system, which the state's top corrections official said were unlike any he had faced in his career in other states.

The seven-month investigation led to the indictment on drug and weapons charges of 24 people - including four state prison officers - who authorities believe are leaders or associates of the gang. Search warrants outlined how gang members were able to obtain heroin, direct hits on enemies through so-called "Death Angels" and conduct cell phone conference calls to arrange business with inmates around the state. The leader dined on shrimp and Grey Goose from his prison cell, the indictment alleged.

Gang associates established a publishing company and have been selling a handbook written by the gang's leader in Maryland, Brown, court documents allege. Titled "The Black Book: Empowering Black Families," authorities say the handbook was designed to help new members learn about the gang.

A member of the gang gave an interview to the City Paper recently. “We were getting ready to take it to a whole different level,” the member said. “We were ready to come on the street and really try and put that Black Book to work and be able to make money and make some changes in the way s--t was going.”

Three members of the Black Guerilla Family gang were also sentenced to life in prison in January of this year for the 2009 robbery, kidnapping and murder of Qonta Waddell, a convicted drug dealer who was hogtied and removed, screaming, from his mother's home in Southwest Baltimore as she watched.

According to the FBI's 2011 Gang Threat Assessment, the BGF gang was reported to be active in California, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia. 

jfenton@baltsun.com