Herrity: Sheriff’s decision imperils fight against gangs

ms-13

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) says Sheriff Stacey Kincaid’s decision to stop detaining undocumented immigrants past their release date will make it more difficult to police to get a handle on gang violence that has been described by the county’s police chief as “out of control.”

Kincaid canceled an agreement with Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) under which the county held some inmates in jail past their release date, saying the action exposed local law enforcement officials to lawsuits and could violate inmates’ rights.

But Herrity says the decision will hamper the effort to control gang violence that is a growing problem in Fairfax and the surrounding area.

“Addressing our gang issue just became much more difficult for law enforcement with the Sheriff’s decision to terminate the jails agreement with ICE,” Herrity said in a statement. “Billed as pro-immigrant, termination of the agreement is actually anti-immigrant in that it significantly hurts law enforcement’s ability to rid our streets of MS-13 and other gang members.

“These gang members prey primarily on our legal and illegal immigrant communities and vulnerable youth in our schools. It is ironic that this announcement came on the same day as the Board approved an additional $500K in spending to fight the gang problem and without discussion with the Board of Supervisors,” Herrity said.

Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova had expressed support for Kincaid’s action.

“I am pleased with Sheriff Stacey Kincaid’s decision to take this step,” Bulova said. “The Sheriff and her deputies operate the county jail and are not federal immigration officials.”

Local police and corrections agencies around the country have been pushing back against federal requests that they aid in apprehending and detaining undocumented immigrants.

“We intend to comply with all federal obligations as they pertain to ICE. The current contract is not necessary for us to do this as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of localities in the Commonwealth have no contractual arrangement,” Kincaid said last week. “We found it expedient to no longer have an agreement that required us to extend our resources beyond these obligations. We remain committed to our mission and mandate.”

Herrity’s statement

Here are excerpts of Herrity’s lengthy statement on the issue:

The Gang Problem

In the mid-2000s, Fairfax County with support from Congressman Wolf’s funding of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force (NVGTF), developed and executed a well-coordinated response to the rise in gang activity and violence during that period. These efforts were a victim of their own success as gang violence tapered off and funding for the efforts dwindled. For instance, funding for the NVGTF dropped from $5 million to $3 million in 2012 to around $300K today. Funding for Identification, Prevention and Education (IPE) efforts, a critical component to dealing with gangs, saw similar reductions.

Since 2014, the County has seen a significant increase in gang activity. The activity has been significantly more brutal and violent than the past, and the offenders are much younger. Much more of the activity also takes place behind closed doors with recruitment and activities coordinated on the internet and social media. In Fairfax County alone, there have been 17 brutal gang related murders which represent 35% of the all of the County’s homicides since 2014. Our police department has been doing their best and have made 64 arrests in these murders with numerous convictions.

What changed?

Since 2014, the federal government has placed over 4,000 undocumented minor children in Fairfax County, and many of these “children” are in fact older than the 18 age they claim to be, and many are from MS-13 countries. Let me be very clear – all of these children are not gang members and many will not become gang members, but to conclude that this is not a large part of our gang problem is ignoring reality, as some of them actually come here as gang members. Many of these children have been placed with distant relatives that work multiple jobs, and they cannot read or write in their own language, much less English. Because of this, they have a hard time fitting in and are prime targets for gang recruitment. They also place a huge burden on our schools; Fairfax County must educate and graduate them according to federal law. While the Board approved my motion to seek federal assistance, in regards to education, there has been no funding other than local resources.

While the numbers of identified gang members vary, our police department conservatively estimates that there are over 2,000 gang members in Fairfax County – the vast majority MS-13. The number for the region is significantly higher. Estimates are also difficult to tabulate because members make their way in and out of the county and region; they do not care or pay attention to county or state boundary lines. While we have always had, and likely will always have gangs in Fairfax, the numbers do not lie – the problem has become significant.

First-hand observation

Over the last year or so, I have met with and ridden along with the members of both Fairfax County’s Gang Unit and the NVGTF. Below are details of two events from those ride alongs, as well as some of what I have learned.

In June, while on a ride-along with Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and the NVGTF, they were able to take four identified gang members off our streets. Once identified as gang members based on tattoos, phone posts, and other evidence, they were placed in custody and taken to the Fairfax County jail to be held for deportation. As you will read further below, the NVGTF and our Gang unit will no longer be able to do this unless they capture the identified gang member committing a crime. Our communities are a safer place with these four gang members off our streets. That just became more difficult.

The most disturbing of the four identified was our first stop of the night. What appeared to me to be a clean cut, 17 year old young man walking on a street wearing gang colors, turned out to be a 22 year old covered in MS-13 tattoos with tear drops (murders), convicted in El Salvador for murder, deported twice from the U.S., wanted for assault in Philadelphia and he was walking the streets.

The second instance I will share demonstrates the focus of law enforcement and the NVGTF. On the same ride along as above, task force members spotted three youths drinking at a picnic table outside of an apartment complex. They approached and determined the individuals were in the country illegally but were not gang members. At that time, the ICE members of the task force stepped away and let the local police handle it. The three youths were asked to pour out their beers and go inside with a warning to behave. While law enforcement could have arrested them, they chose not to because they were not violent criminals or gang members.

I share both of these stories because they demonstrate the importance of our efforts against gangs and the restraint used by law enforcement in dealing with our immigrant population to the chagrin of many in our community on both sides – those that want everyone in the country deported and those that want no one deported. I have had many conversations with law enforcement to confirm what they are doing and what they are not doing. They are committed to removing criminals and identified gang members from our community and for better or worse – nothing more.

Ill-advised decision

I have met with the pro-immigrant groups, including CASA, on several occasions and challenged them to give me the name of a single individual taken into custody by law enforcement in Fairfax County (including ICE) that was not a criminal or an identified gang member. To date they have provided no names but they, and many of our area politicians, continue to make our immigrant communities afraid of law enforcement and pushed the Sheriff to her ill-advised decision to terminate the agreement with ICE.

In her announcement on ending the agreement, Sheriff Stacy Kincaid focused on the fact that she will still do the bare minimum to cooperate with ICE and meet federal requirements. What she did not address is the impact terminating the agreement will have on our ability to remove identified gang members and criminals from our streets. I have learned from my many discussions with law enforcement of the importance of this agreement to their ability to remove gang members from our communities.

To be fair to the Sheriff, I learned on my ride alongs that Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in the region with such an agreement. Accordingly, the Fairfax jail was used to hold identified gang members from Loudoun, Prince William, Alexandria, and Arlington because those jurisdictions do not have their own agreements with ICE. This decision was not just a setback to fighting MS-13 in Fairfax it is a setback to the entire region. We are very proud to claim we are the safest jurisdiction of our size in the country. To maintain that standing we have to be better than the rest. I believe having this agreement in place is one of the many things that will keep us there. I have tried to reach the Sheriff to discuss the decision but have not heard back from her.

There are many definitions to the term “sanctuary city.” Because the Sheriff will continue to do the immigration checks in jail and comply with federal requirements to notify ICE, I do not believe this decision makes us a “sanctuary city.” What it does do is make us a less safe community as it significantly hinders our abilities to remove gang members from our communities. In particular, it is the legal and illegal immigrant communities that these gangs prey on that will be less safe.

Worse yet, the Sheriff and members of the Board are billing this move as pro-immigrant, when it is actually anti-immigrant. Gangs prey on our immigrant communities, regardless of status, and the vulnerable kids in school. Hampering law enforcement’s ability to rid the county of these gang members actually hurts our immigrant communities.

I am also disappointed that the Board of Supervisors was not consulted before the decision was made even though there is no requirement to do so, as the Sheriff is independently elected. It is clear that some Board members did have advance notice, however, I did not. I have asked Chairman Bulova to have the Board briefed on the impact of the decision. I hope Sheriff Kincaid will join us for this meeting.

More resources to fight gangs

It is ironic that hours before the Sheriff’s decision was announced, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a strategy to spend $500,000 in FY 2018 carryover funds to fight our gang problems. In the presentation of this plan, Fairfax County staff clearly lays out our growing problems:

  • Gangs are exploiting young people who recently immigrated to the U.S. to reunite with their families, targeting them for recruitment.
  • Recruitment and gang operations are evolving with advances in technology and social media.
  • Reductions in federal spending for regional coordination hinder prevention and suppression efforts.
    These funds will be used for additional police resources and gang prevention efforts.

State and federal activity

There has also been significant activity at the state and federal levels to address the region’s gang issues. Delegate Hugo has submitted a $1.5M budget amendment to fund the NVGTF and Congresswoman Comstock is pursuing federal funding for the task force. Our entire congressional delegation has asked the Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to provide the names of undocumented minors placed in Fairfax County to state and local authorities as required by federal law. It is my understanding this is still not occurring.

Congresswoman Comstock has been particularly active introducing legislation to address the gang problem including – the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act to provide resources to communities to curb the rise in gang activities and Criminal Alien Gang Member Act to ensure that when ICE positively identifies a gang member they may act immediately.

Conclusion

Immigration is a federal issue and the federal government needs to deal with it sooner rather than later. However, local governments are left to deal with years of poor immigration policies and lack of enforcement, and the resulting impacts on our communities. While local law enforcement and the sheriff are not federal immigration officials, they have the duty to keep all of our communities safe and we have an obligation to give them the tools we can to do that. It is my hope that the Sheriff will revisit her decision and that other local jurisdictions will enter into these agreements.

I will also continue to work for additional law enforcement and IPE resources to combat our significant gang problems. Fairfax County has received a significantly greater share of the undocumented minor children than other jurisdictions in the country – we need to begin working with ORR to slow or stop the flow, identify who they are and the impacts on our community, and pursue federal funding for the significant impact on our taxpayers.

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About the Author

James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.