BERLIN – Organized gang
activity is creeping into Berlin alongside unaffiliated criminal groups that
have been in town for years, but local law enforcement is working to prevent
organized gangs from taking hold in the town.
The key to handling
organized gang activity in Berlin is prevention, said Berlin Police Chief
Arnold Downing in an interview this week.
Berlin police have seen
groups of unaffiliated locals working together to commit crimes for years.
“The gangs themselves
just haven’t been the traditional type of gang you hear about,” said Downing.
Criminal gangs in Berlin
are more likely to be unaffiliated, Downing said, unlike the traditional
organized gangs that dominate news coverage, and made up of two or three people
who conspire together to commit crimes.
Unaffiliated gangs are
just as dangerous as established gangs, according to Downing.
The amount of organized
gang activity in town is creeping up, according to police.
While affiliated, or
organized, gang activity in Berlin is rare, there is some evidence of organized
gang activity in Berlin, over the last 18 months.
“We’ve found gang bibles
and bylaws at individual’s homes,” said Downing.
Many of the individuals
involved with organized gangs join an established group in prison. When gang
members return to the community, one of their missions is to recruit more
members, which is one way organized gangs spread into new areas.
While few local crimes
are gang related, Berlin police have found gang memorabilia at a suspect’s home
while investigating an armed robbery at a local convenience store.
In another case, a
Berlin resident was injured in a gang shooting in Salisbury, which just shows
that organized gangs are only one step away from the town, Downing said.
Berlin Councilman Elroy
Brittingham, who represents the east side of Berlin, said that people do not
seem to be worried over gangs moving into the town of Berlin.
“I don’t think that
citizens are really concerned about gang activity. I think what worries most
people is that Salisbury is so close and they do have gang activity,” said
The Berlin Police
Department (BPD) shares information on gang activity and individual gang
members with other area law enforcement entities, including prisons and the
State’s Attorney Office.
While there is no
official gang information database, area law enforcement agencies hold a lot of
information between themselves that is only a phone call away, which allows the
BPD and other local police agencies to be more proactive.
enforcement and corrections officials in particular have a wealth of
information to share, Downing said.
“We’re trying to stay in
front of the situation,” said Downing.
“You can’t close your
eyes to it,” said Brittingham.
Being able to verify
that a suspect is a known gang member also allows police to charge that suspect
under Maryland anti-gang laws as well as for the specific crime the individual
was originally arrested for.
The law enforcement gang
information network allows the BPD to keep track of people released from prison
who joined a gang during their incarceration. When a gang member is paroled,
the BPD knows that day that the individual is a gang member.
The BPD accompanies parole
officers on home checks of known gang members who have been paroled from
“We go ahead and
supervise them more,” Downing said.
The BPD has been trained
on handling gang activity in the past, but it is continuing its education by
sending two police officers and a parole office for more training at a gang
Those officers will then
educate the rest of the Berlin department as well as other local law
enforcement agencies on what they learned.
The training will be
funded by a grant from the Local Government Insurance Trust.
The community also helps
police out-of-town gang members. When they see strangers they are concerned
about, most Berlin residents are quick to call the BPD, according to Downing.
In a small town like
Berlin, it is easy for residents to know who belongs in a neighborhood and who
does not, Downing said.
People are less likely
to call the police when family members or friends are involved in criminal
activity, Downing acknowledged.
“I think we have to be careful. I think we
really have to be aggressive and look ahead,” Brittingham said.
“We’re in it and we’re
staying up on top of it,” Downing said.