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WASHINGTON -- Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier and federal law officials said Wednesday that they are concerned about the arrival of the notorious Bloods and Crips gangs leading to conflicts with local gangs, particularly in the struggle to control the illegal drug trade.
"Bloods and Crips are starting to break into territory that belongs to crews in the District," Chief Lanier said. "Those conflicts are going to end in violence."
City police and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) acknowledged the existence of the nationally recognized, West Coast-based gangs late last month after arresting 77 people in connection with drug dealing in the Northeast neighborhood of Trinidad.
The neighborhood was the site of several killings in the spring and summer, which resulted in Chief Lanier instituting military-style checkpoints.
Officials said one explanation for the emergence of the national gangs, particularly the Bloods, is that local convicts are being recruited in federal prisons.
"It's a networking system," said George Fong, of the FBI's Safe Streets and Gang Unit. "There are a lot of East Coast gangs being inspired by West Coast gangs."
Peace activists Wednesday questioned whether local gangs members are really pretending to be part of the bigger, national gangs in order to intimidate potential rivals.
"It's more of a wannabe thing than a real thing," said Ronald Moten, co-founder of the youth advocacy group Peaceoholics. "If there was some real stuff going on, then it would be a lot worse."
Still, Chief Lanier said she want to clamp down on the "relatively small" number of Bloods in the District to stop them from recruiting local crews.
City police began aggressively targeted crews after a series of retaliatory shootings late last summer and through the fall. The crews were also blamed for the shootings in Trinidad and the larger 5th Police District.
Though police express concern about the potential for increased violence, they don't expect it to rise to the levels seen in the late 1980s when the District was mired in the crack cocaine epidemic.
Joseph Persichini, special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said the agency is watching crime trends more than naming trends, saying that any gang, regardless of its affiliation, is dangerous.
"We're looking at where the drugs are, where the guns are, violent crime," he said. "We've prioritized the most dangerous gangs in different parts of the city and we go after them."
Mr. Persichini said that strategy combined with information-sharing among city police, the DEA, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District and other local agencies will lead to better gang prevention.