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December 08. 2014 6:05PM

Manchester chief says gang violence is decreasing

By DALE VINCENT
New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — Police Chief David Mara Monday said a multi-agency initiative to reduce urban violence, that began in July, has had a dramatic effect on gang-related gun violence in the city. Mara said the initiative initially focused on two local gangs: OTL, Orange to Laurel streets, and 180, referring to a Main Street location where that group gathered.
The reason? “They're trying to kill each other,” said Mara. He said there have been at least 10 gun incidents related to the two gangs and over 50 incidents of conflict between the two gangs or conduct on their own.
A March 2 riot on Laurel Street between the two gangs involved about 30 people and baseball bats and took 18 police officers about a half hour to break up. That prompted Mara to start work on an initative to address gang violence in Manchester.
Mara said he's not so naive as to think OTL and 180 are the only gangs in the city. “We have other gangs,” he said, because there is money to be made selling drugs. But other gangs are not trying to kill one another now.
Of 134 gun crimes so far this year, 23 are gang-related and at least 10 of those are related to OTL/180, said Mara, although he said the number of gun incidents have dropped sharply since the intitiative began in July.
Mara said the Urban Violence initiative, initially funded with a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Attorney's Office Project Safe Neighborhood, has three prongs: awareness, deterrence and outreach.
Awareness has paid off, he said, with a concentration of officers' observation and contact in hot spots. Deterrence is showing progress through prosecutions. “There is a concerted effort to watch them,” said Mara. “We'll arrest them for anything (illegal),” he said.
Outreach is under way with various community and other groups in an effort to persuade vulnerable youngster ages 13 to 19, especially middle schoolers, that there are alternatives to gang membership and violence.
Mara said a longterm solution will require some kind of jobs program, in conjunction with businesses and industry, to offer youngsters an alternative to obtain money and legal “success.”
Joining Mara at a news conference at Manchester Police Headquarters on Valley Street Monday were U.S. Attorney John Kacavas, New Hampshire Attorney General Joe Foster, Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance and representatives of New Hampshire Probation/Parole, Manchester Office of Youth Services, New Hampshire Juvenile Probation/Parole, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Streets Task force, and United States Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other agencies.
Foster, whose office prosecutes murders, cited the case of Jesus “Scooby” Fernandez, 28, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced Nov. 24 to 15 to 30 years in prison for shooting Daniel Langlois to death in December 2012, Foster said Fernandez, originally charged with with second-degree murder, “decided to settle.” A felon with an illegally obtained gun, Fernandez fired one shot in the air and one at the vehicle Langlois was driving away, hitting Langlois in the back of the head. “We simply cannot ignore gun violence,” said Foster.
Last Thursday, Hector Velez Jr., 19, described at a 180 member who had pleaded to two first-degree assault charges and a charge of riot for hitting two OTL members with a baseball bat in the March 2 incident, was sentenced to two to five years in prison, with a 3 1/2-to-7-year sentence suspended for five years after his release from prison.
One of Velez' victims has since been indicted in connection with threats and stalking of Velez in Manchester and for transporting a brother to Nashua, where the brother allegedly fired a gun at people the two men had followed from a Manchester club.
The Hillsborough County Attorney said there is an effort to identify when illegal activity is gang-related. LaFrance said it's important “that we label gun-related crime accurately.” If it can be established that a crime is gang-related, she said, New Hampshire's law regarding such crime provides for enhanced penalties.


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