WASHINGTON - FOX 5 is taking a look ahead at our region and the issues local governments are focusing on in 2018 and how they could affect you.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy joined us on FOX 5 News to discuss different topics impacting the Maryland county along with questions submitted by FOX 5 viewers.
Last year, McCarthy expressed his frustration with the current laws to combat gangs. He reiterated those beliefs in this new year.
"I think we need better tools in Maryland legislatively to allow us to address some of the gang violence," he said. "We need some new gang statutes. What has really caught our attention is specific to some numbers. We are a jurisdiction that was almost immune to gang violence when it came to homicide, but yet in the last two years, we have had over 21 gang-related homicides in Montgomery County. That is a shocking number to us.
"If you look at our jail population, 26 percent of the daily jail population in Montgomery County identifies themselves as a gang member. Obviously we have to start with different approaches and we have asked the county council and county executive for funding to do that both at the police and the prosecutors' level and we have already begun doing that."
A FOX 5 viewer asked on Twitter what McCarthy is doing to stop MS-13, particularly in Silver Spring.
"MS-13 is a gang that has a toehold in the entire Washington region, not just in those particular neighborhoods [in Montgomery County]," said McCarthy. "One of the things we do is we work with our partners in the region to share information about MS-13 and they are working through that. Some of the ways we investigate this is through grand jury investigations, the mining of social media - this is some of the new stuff we are trying to do. We are monitoring jail phone calls. We know who the members of the gang are that are incarcerated in Montgomery County and we are particularly monitoring and trying to get that information and work our way up that chain towards the people who are leading the gangs, in particular MS-13 in Montgomery County."
Has social media helped or hindered McCarthy in his role as state's attorney?
"I think it makes it more complicated," he said. "I think that in some instances because they brag so openly about their membership. They will have tribute pages, they will say it to you to your face I am not a member of MS-13. Go to their web page. They will have a tribute page to MS-13 after having just said to you I am not a member of MS-13."
The opioid epidemic and drug overdoses are a big problem around the D.C. region and Montgomery County. McCarthy said the numbers are very concerning.
"In 2007, 195 Marylanders died either from heroin or fentanyl overdoses in the state," McCarthy told FOX 5. "As of nine months into last year, it was 1,427 [overdoses] - almost an 800 percent increase in the number of people dying from this. There is a lot of different reasons, a lot of different things we have to do.
"A lot of it is public education. We have a program called Speak Up, Save a Life that we run out of my office that we are very proud of - where we have spoken to 30,000 Montgomery County high school students last year. If you are in a position, and disproportionately many of these victims are young victims, if you see an individual in the throes of an overdose, make the call. Don't worry about the fact that you might get charged in the possession of a drug. We are more interested in saving the life of a young person dying from an overdose than prosecuting somebody for simple possession of heroin."
SCAMS AND FRAUD
Many elderly residents in county are targeted for scams and McCarthy's office encounters many cases of fraud. In November, a housekeeper and her husband was convicted of swindling a 92-year-old man with dementia of $1.2 million. It was a conviction McCarthy is very proud of.
"We convicted that individual offender and a good portion of that money was, in fact, brought back," he said. "What we need to do is education to the senior community. We are in taxis. Let me tell you right now, some of the people listening to get this are going to get phone calls from people pretending to be the IRS telling them they owe tax bills, etc. I will tell you hundreds of people in Montgomery County receive these fake IRS calls urging them to make payments to a specific P.O. Box, etc.
"Look, the IRS is not calling you up. Also, people that knock on your door - we call them woodchucks - people that go from door-to-door, these home improvement scammers that say, 'I see a hole in your roof. I have a little extra equipment here. I'll patch that roof, I'll cut that limb off that dead tree and charge you $5,000.' Anything that is too good to be true is too good to be true. Be very wary in the springtime of home improvement scammers and the IRS scams. The time is right for them."
SCHOOL EMPLOYEE MISCONDUCT
Another concern that was raised among FOX 5 viewers is sexual abuse allegations against Montgomery County employees and what the state's attorney's office is doing to stop the problem.
"The Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office and Montgomery County Public Schools have entered into a different MOUs [memorandum of understanding]," said McCarthy. "One of the things we have done is we helped them redraft here in Montgomery County the protocol for educating the 23,000 people who work for Montgomery County Public Schools about what their legal obligations are to report when information comes to their attention about a child being abused. I think quite candidly and the fact you see as many cases being reported as you do, I think there was one two days ago in Montgomery County as a result of the fact we were intimately involved in drafting that.
"I am unfamiliar with any instance in a case where we have investigated and someone sat on an investigation or hid an investigation. I would look to the future and at any charges that we would bring against anybody in any instance would depend on the facts of an individual case. But I will tell you we have worked intimately as partners with Montgomery County Public Schools in drafting a policy and we are also involved in educating everyone in the entire school system about what their legal obligations are when it comes to their attention that a child has been sexually abused or abused in any fashion. We have been repeatedly and actively involved in these cases unfortunately all the time."