New approach urged on gang violence at Lowell summit

District Attorney Marian Ryan with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Gregg Croteau, Executive Director UTEC, at the Lowell Gang Prevention Conference.

October 11, 2013
By Lisa Redmond
Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- The face of gangs in Lowell is changing.

It is now "rare" to see 14- or 15-year-old violent gang members, with access to weapons, acting out mostly around turf issues and the color of clothing..." Acting Lowell Police Superintendent Deborah Friedl said at conference on Lowell's gangs Thursday.

Friedl made her remarks at the first citywide Lowell Gang Prevention Conference, held at the United Teen Equality Center on Hurd Street. She credits the many partnerships formed among city groups that target these high-risk teens.

At the conference, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middlesex District Attorney's Office, local police and social-service agencies gathered to compare notes and form new partnerships to deal with gang issues. Martha Wyatt, community outreach coordinator for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, said the conference is one of 11 around the state as part of Ortiz's Safe Neighborhood program to form partnerships to curtail gun and gang violence.

While teen gang involvement is down, the city's gang members are now 30-year-old hard-core offenders, with long criminal histories, and a lot of history with gang violence and gun violence, Friedl said. Those gang members are beyond the age of the services available.

"They are the ones who are acting up right now," she said." Our investigations have to change and our response has to change accordingly," she said.

Friedl noted it is amazing to see gang members' access to weapons.

"No matter how many weapons we take off the street, there are more reports of shootings or shots fired," Friedl said.

There have been at least six shootings in the city since the start of September, including a shooting on Salem Street on Sunday night that left two men hospitalized. In the last five months, there have been at least 10 shootings.

City councilors and some residents said this week they are very concerned about the recent gun violence and want prompt action to stem the tide.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, disputes were settled with fists or bats, she said. "Today, they will readily settle a dispute... with a handgun," Friedl said.

Another frustration police deal with is the unwillingness of the victims of gun violence to cooperate with police or even mislead police during the investigation, Friedl said.

And yet, there are fewer random acts of violence between gangs, she said.

Lowell police Sgt. Mark LeBlanc said now the focus of gangs is to make money. Friedl described it as "structured criminal activity" designed to make money.

Friedl praised collaborative work by police, prosecutors, federal officials and a bevy of social-service organizations, including UTEC, to redirect teens away from gangs and into programs that keep them out of trouble and out of jail.

UTEC Executive Director Gregg Croteau said his group's mission is to focus on the "hardest to engage" in the city. Through UTEC's programs, Croteau said a three-year review of its "graduates" shows a 13 percent recidivism rate.

But former Middlesex prosecutor Cara Krysil, now chief of the state Attorney General's major-crimes division, said her job is to find a "special place" for some of these gang members -- prison.

Krysil and Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn MacKinlay told the crowd that federal authorities work with state police and the DA's office to get gang members off the street.

The U.S. Attorney's Office analysis of gun-assault rates, for example, determine which gang is responsible for the gang violence and targets them.

One of the ways, federal and state officials identify gang members is through their tattoos, hand signals and their communications through social media, such as Facebook.


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