WASHINGTON -- Federal law enforcement agencies are planning to team up with Baltimore police in an effort to combat the city's emerging gang problem.
Baltimore is one of four U.S. cities chosen to launch a joint task force project that eventually will target criminal street gangs in 39 U.S. cities.
"Our message to gang members is this: When we throw the federal book at you, it will be a knockout blow. There will be no bail. No probation. No parole. You will spend a long time in the federal penitentiary," said U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr at a news conference yesterday.
Barr was joined by FBI Director William S. Sessions and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Director Stephen E. Higgens in announcing that 300 FBI counterintelligence agents will be transferred from their international espionage duties to battle street crime.
Barr also announced the formation of a Gang Analysis Center to pool federal, state and local information for "coordinated attacks" on gang networks that cross state lines.
The effort will be launched with joint task forces in Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta and Dallas.
The task forces will focus on getting criminals prosecuted under federal statutes requiring mandatory sentences with no probation or parole.
"Because of our tough federal laws, we have the capacity to take out a gang in one fell swoop," Barr said.
Law enforcement officials in the Baltimore area agree that the city's "gangs" at this point are merely loose groups of criminals -- hardly gangs compared with highly organized groups such as the Jamaican Posse, a nationwide gang, or the R Street Crew of Washington.
The Baltimore groups "don't have turf, don't have names and don't have colors," said Baltimore police spokesman Dennis Hill. They are "small groups of people involved in drug activity."
But David Troy, special agent in charge of ATF in the Baltimore-Washington area, said Los Angeles, which is believed to have the most criminal gang activity in the country, was at that stage 10 years ago.
"We have the opportunity here to nip this thing in the bud," he said.
Bobby R. Gillham, FBI agent in charge of Maryland and Delaware, estimated that the majority of violent crimes in Maryland "relate in some way to gangs." These gangs are "organized criminal groups who do drug deals, import drugs [and] do homicides for drug groups," he said.
The recent gunning-down of two bystanders in West Baltimore is believed to be the work of such a "drug group," Gilham said. The task force would be helpfull in coordinating information in such a case because the two gunmen are believed to from New York, Gillham said.
The assignment of the 18 former counterintelligence agents to Maryland, raises the total number of agents in the state from 36 to 54. Gillham also said he has decided to transfer six to eight additional Maryland agents from their current duties to the anti-gang task force.
Troy said he has not yet decided how many ATF agents will be assigned to the task force, but it will be "a considerable number."
The number of Baltimore police who will serve on the task force has not been finalized, Hill said. The agencies and police are still mapping out their strategy, he said.
One of the reasons Baltimore was chosen, Troy said, is that its police have a "historically close relationship" with the FBI and ATF. "We felt [the program] was a natural there," he said.
Another factor making Baltimore ripe for a crackdown is the tough anti-crime stance of local U.S. Attorney Richard Bennett, Troy said.
Finally, it makes no sense to have a task force in Washington and not include Maryland and Baltimore, Gillham said.