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November 15, 2002

Police establish new unit on gangs in Somerville

From: Boston Globe, MA
Nov. 15, 2002

By Douglas Belkin, Globe Staff, 11/15/2002

Somerville police have formed a gang unit to combat a spike in crimes linked to a Salvadoran gang in East Somerville, including the alleged rape of two deaf girls in Foss Park two weeks ago.

Police Chief George McLean announced the new eight-member squad last night at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen, which unanimously approved a draft of a proposed ordinance that calls for giving his department the authority to arrest known gang members who gather in public.

''The police department is telling us they don't have the tools they need to move gangs off the street corner,'' said Alderman William Roche, who represents East Somerville and who introduced the resolution aimed at the MS-13 gang. ''We have to send a message, and we have to send it loud and clear that we won't tolerate this. We will lock them up.''

Since May, when the city began keeping records on gang-related arrests, 23 suspected MS-13 members have been arrested in East Somerville, the chief said. In fact, nearly 25 percent of the 1,318 arrests in all seven city wards this year were in that ward, McLean said.

The proposed ordinance defines ''criminal loitering'' as ''remaining in any one place under circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the purpose ... of that behavior is to enable a criminal street gang to establish control over identifiable areas.''

Some aldermen have said the proposal might legalize racial profiling, but no one dissented last night.

Whether the measure can pass constitutional muster is debatable. Lynn Mayor Edward ''Chip'' Clancy Jr. refuses to sign a similar proposal passed by the city council, calling it unconstitional. In 1992, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a criminal street gang loitering ordinance passed in Chicago, calling it overly broad and in violation of the First Amendment.

Roche said he believed something would eventually be approved by the board that would stand.

Dottie Cassesso, who lives in East Somerville and works nearby, said she no longer walks to work because she has come to expect young men she believes to be gang members to insult her.

''I shouldn't have to worry about walking five minutes to work,'' she said. ''Something has to be done.''

Douglas Belkin can be reached at

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 11/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.