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200 law enforcement officials to gather in Ross to start two-day conference on gang activity in Western Pennsylvania

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Recent run-ins

Authorities blamed violence and criminal activity on gang-related disputes in just the past month:

• March 30: Prosecutors said two members of warring gangs opened fire at each other — injuring three people — in a pre-Easter shootout at Edgewood Towne Centre.

• April 5: U.S. marshals — along with the FBI and police from Atlanta — arrested eight suspected members of the Pittsburgh Jack Boys gang on drug trafficking charges.

• Thursday: A series of police raids in Munhall, West Mifflin and Homestead led to the arrests of 34 people, many of whom were alleged members of the Homestead-based Uptown Gang, accused of trafficking $500,000 to $1 million worth of heroin from Newark every three weeks.

• Also Thursday: A federal judge sentenced two members of the Manchester Original Gangsters to decades in prison for their roles in a heroin ring that used young kids to hide and transport the drugs.

Source: Tribune-Review archives

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Gang members drive much of the drug crime and violence in the Pittsburgh region, authorities said, and 35 gangs operate in Allegheny County alone.

“Cartels are becoming more aggressive, more brazen,” said Bill Chalfant, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations. “The profit margins are becoming just too high, and violence is just the cost of doing business.”

On Wednesday, more than 200 law enforcement officials will gather at the Holiday Inn in Ross to start a two-day conference on gang activity in Western Pennsylvania. The discussion, restricted to law enforcement, is sponsored by the East Coast Gang Investigators' Association, the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, and state Sens. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, and John Yudichak, D-Luzerne County.

Authorities estimate 70 percent of homicides in the Pittsburgh area are gang-related, although crime statistics don't specify when gang affiliation is suspected.

“We have no idea as to the true impact of gangs,” said Chalfant, a detective with the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office.

Stopping gangs begins with training, intelligence and collaboration, said District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., whose investigators helped disrupt gang activity in the Mon Valley and the eastern suburbs the past year.

“If we can address the drug trade or the use of violence, either way the public wins,” Zappala said.

Chalfant said a state law that Gov. Tom Corbett signed in October that enhances penalties for crimes related to criminal gang recruitment is a step in the right direction, but police need a way to identify gang members for policing, prosecuting and tracking.

“It's got to be an across-the-board collaboration. We have to be able to share information and document this information statewide, and we need everyone to be on the same page,” Chalfant said. “The minute you identify them and (track) them back to the location where they're from, they know they're under a microscope.”

Police departments in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Westmoreland counties have officers registered for the conference, which they say will help them even if their communities aren't known for gang activity.

“While we don't have a real gang presence in Ross ... we're sending officers in order to be educated in case we do have some interaction with them,” Ross Detective Brian Kohlhepp said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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