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McDonnell Unveils Anti-Gang Plan

Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert F. McDonnell unveiled a multi-part plan to address gang violence this afternoon as the former attorney general portrayed himself as the choice law-and-order candidate.

"We have seen the presence of gangs in Northern Virginia that we never thought we would see," McDonnell said. "It is time to intensify our efforts."

McDonnell, speaking outside the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, outlined a broad policy proposal, which included the expansion of Virginia's Gang Reduction and Intervention Program (GRIP); increased federal, and possibly state, funding for the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force; the creation of "gang-free zones" in public areas outside of schools, including bus stops, hospitals and community centers; the creation of a state anti-gang coordinator underneath the Virginia Secretary of Public Safety to centralize state policing efforts; and tougher state penalties for gang recruitment.

"The gangs in L.A. and Chicago, the Bloods and the Crips, and the ethnic gangs, MS-13, have taken hold and become much more organized," he said. "They're involved in drugs and immigrant smuggling and communities where gangs took root 30 years ago are still dealing with the problems. We don't want to become them."

During his speech, McDonnell referenced the March slaying of William Bennett, a retired Army officer, who was beaten to death while he and his wife took a morning walk near their Lansdowne home.

Loudoun County Sheriff's deputies linked four men to the attack on Bennett and his wife, Cynthia, and officials said a 17-year-old juvenile arrested in the case had a prior conviction for street gang participation. Authorities believe that the suspects are members of a gang or associated with one.

McDonnell was introduced by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and in attendance were Loudoun County's top law enforcement officials, Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson and Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman.

Simpson said he supported McDonnell's plan to increase the penalty for gang recruitment of a juvenile from a misdemeanor to a felony, noting that many adult gang members have "juveniles carry out their dirty work."

"You've got to hit them where it hurts," Simpson said.

McDonnell made anti-gang initiatives a key component of his tenure as attorney general, helping craft a 25-minute anti-gang documentary, "The Wrong Family: Virginia Fights Back Against Gangs," that was distributed to state law enforcement agencies.

By Derek Kravitz  |  May 28, 2009; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Derek Kravitz , Frank R. Wolf , Loudoun County , Robert F. McDonnell  
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