MARYLAND

Gang prevention conference held in Silver Spring

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A week-long conference, which involves 300 local and national gang experts, elected officials and law enforcement officers, is meeting in Silver Spring to discuss the prevention and elimination of gangs in the Washington region.

Those assembled also talked about some of the trends they've been observing.

Diverging from their usual posts in area neighborhoods, local gang members are spending more time recruiting and meeting in city centers. They're also increasingly using social media to gain new members and antagonize rival groups.

Luis Cardona, with Montgomery County's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, said, "And even our partners in law enforcement have come to recognize that we're not going to be able to arrest our way out of this situation. It's going to require adequate suppression but also thorough prevention services."

Youth advocates are also attending the conference, hoping to learn about the latest trends.

Lead4Life, Inc.'s Dwaine Robbins said, "You just have to be aware of the different kinds of signs, because they're just as advanced as we are in social media, GPS, all those kinds of things. They use it to conduct their types of business, just like law enforcement, so we have to be aware of those types of things."

Gang experts say commercial hubs, like Downtown Silver Spring, Gallery Place in D.C. and Metro stations across the region have become meeting areas for gangs.

They add the recession caused funding for youth services and gang prevention programs to be cut back.

"So that's brought together young people from different communities and different neighborhoods, which can lead to tensions if there's rivalries going on, especially if you put into the mix different gangs from different neighborhoods," Cardona explained.

Law enforcement officials say more and more gangs are also taking their brands online to websites like Facebook and Youtube.

While a digital trail helps investigators keep track of criminals, online activity can also exacerbate tension between rival groups.

Cardona said, "If you look on those sites and see the hits, you're talking about thousands of people who have seen this. So what ends up happening is it reiterates the need for some level of retaliation."

Gang experts also point out violent crimes involving gangs, i.e. homicides, sexual assaults and so on, are less frequent. But drug offenses, graffiti and larceny are growing problems.

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