Police officials in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are warning officers that a Salvadoran street gang is plotting to ambush and kill them when they respond to service calls.
The warnings have been issued based on intelligence gathered from the Langley Park area, a known base for members of the MS-13 gang, officials said. The area straddles the two counties.
Lt. Steven Yuen, a Prince George’s County police spokesman, said the department would not discuss how the intelligence was gathered or the threats in detail, but he acknowledged that officials are aware of them.
“The Prince George’s County Police Department receives information about crime all the time,” he said. “Any information that could have an impact on our officers is disseminated to all personnel. Our officers take all information into account so they may act in the safest and most professional manner.”
The department has instructed officers to ask for backup if they have suspicions about a call to which they are dispatched.
MS-13, which is among the largest and the most violent street gangs, has members in Maryland and the District, but is concentrated in Northern Virginia. In recent years, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and Rep. Frank R. Wolf have each created regional or statewide task forces to combat the growing problem of gang violence.
Authorities said gang activity has contributed to a rise in violent crime in Hispanic communities, but gang members also are branching out into drug trafficking, car-theft rings and prostitution.
In July 2002, The Washington Times reported that MS-13 had dispatched about 20 gang members from California to Fairfax County to kill a county police officer at random.
There were two confirmed cases in which MS-13 members tried to lure officers behind buildings in the Culmore area of Fairfax County to ambush them, but no officers were killed.
Officer Derek Baliles, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, said Prince George’s County police are taking the lead on investigating the threats.
“We are aware of the threats and we are asking our officers to take the necessary precautions,” he said.
WJLA-TV (Channel 7) reported the police warnings Thursday night.
According to a report issued in September by a gang task force set up to study the problem in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, about 3,600 gang members are believed to be in the metropolitan area.
The Joint County Gang Prevention Task Force report said Montgomery officials estimate there are 20 to 22 gangs operating in the county, with 540 to 560 active members. Gangs in Montgomery County are concentrated in Takoma Park, Wheaton, Rockville and Gaithersburg.
Prince George’s officials estimate that more than 50 gangs or “crews” operate in the county. The report said most gang-related incidents were confined to a 1.4-square-mile area in Langley Park, which has the densest population of Hispanic residents in Prince George’s.
Two teenage boys with ties to MS-13 were arrested last month and charged in shootings that left one teenage girl dead and another injured in an Adelphi cemetery.
Jeffrey Rene Villatoro, 16, of no fixed address, was charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 25 incident at the George Washington Cemetery. Jesus Canales, 19, of no fixed address, was charged with attempted murder, police said.
Prince George’s police said both have ties to the MS-13 gang in Langley Park.
MS-13, which stands for Mara Salvatrucha, originated in the late 1980s, when refugees with La Mara, a street gang in El Salvador, joined forces with Salvadoran guerrillas, known as “salvatruchas.”
The number 13 represents the 13th letter of the alphabet, M, which stands for Mexico. The gang is also active in Central America, the United States and Canada.