Harford unveils effort to combat gang activity

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Harford County officials unveiled a three-month campaign yesterday to squelch gang activity, a week after a second suspect was arrested in what police believe was the fatal gang-related shooting of an Edgewood taxi driver.

A handful of loosely organized gangs - their total membership numbering in the dozens - have surfaced in Edgewood, Aberdeen and other areas near U.S. 40 in recent years, police say, with their activity centered on drug dealing. Though they have no known national affiliations, they may display the trappings of well-known gangs, police say.

"Harford County is in the infancy of what could be a potential problem if we don't take some steps now," Harford County Sheriff R. Thomas Golding said yesterday after a meeting with county officials.

Under the initiative, four Harford sheriff's deputies and two state troopers will be assigned to a team aimed at cracking down on gangs. In addition, all county employees, from school teachers to highway workers, will be trained to spot signs of gang activity, such as graffiti and color-coded clothing.

A task force will study ways to combat the gangs, including the possibility of new legislation. Among the options being considered are a daytime curfew for juveniles and "nuisance" ordinances aimed at drug houses.

"It's more of a multidisciplined approach to the problem," said John J. O'Neill, the county director of administration.

The initiative comes more than a month after Derald Howard Guess, a 37-year-old father of nine, was fatally shot in his taxi in an Edgewood neighborhood.

Police say Guess might have been the victim of a gang-initiation rite that involved random killing. One of the suspects arrested in the killing has been identified by witnesses as a member of the gang 9 Tre Gangsta, a subset of a larger group styling itself after the infamous gang the Bloods, police say.

The county's new initiative is the result of efforts begun last year, not a specific reaction to the killing of Guess, said Edward Hopkins, a sheriff's office spokesman.

About 25 to 30 gang members live in the county, with another 25 incarcerated, police say. Sheriff's narcotics investigators first noticed gang activity in the local illegal drug trade about 18 months ago, police said.

"What we're seeing is a potential attraction for gangs to get in there and control it," said O'Neill, chairman of the county Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which has formed the task force.

Officials want to draw on resources from other agencies, including police departments in Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, the county school board, judges and the Harford County state prosecutor's office.

The heads of all county agencies will attend a sheriff's seminar on how to spot gang signs in the form of graffiti and clothing such as wristbands and beads, and then train their respective employees, O'Neill said.

No additional police funding has been announced, but at Tuesday's County Council meeting, Councilman Robert G. Cassilly urged County Executive James M. Harkins to include money to hire more officers for this initiative in his coming budget proposal.

Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt and Ted Shelsby contributed to this article.

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