Kentucky bill mandates more jail time for suspects involved in gangs
It's a move some say is needed to stop the violence that has plagued the city of Louisville of late, but critics fear it's gone too far.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would result in more jail time for suspects involved in gangs.
Louisville has seen a record number of murders the past several years. Police say there is no doubt that some of that violence is connected to gangs.
"Certainly there is a percentage of it that is related to gang activity," Louisville Assistant Chief Robert Schroeder told WDRB News..
That is why LMPD is backing a bill that seeks to crack down on gang activity.
"Kentucky's current bill that addresses gangs has not been revised since Prohibition era," said Rep. Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington), the sponsor of HB 169.
The bill would more specifically define what is a gang, make gang recruiting a criminal offense, and increase prison time for those convicted of committing gang-related crimes.
Police told members of the Judiciary Committee they need the new law because gangs are evolving.
"Kids now will be in one gang at their house, one gang in school, and then another gang in the evenings and in between," said Schroeder. "And currently, we have no mechanism to track or account for that."
An undercover LMPD officer told lawmakers the average age to join a gang is 15 years old, and social media is the new vehicle.
"We want to stop these gangs -- stop them from targeting our children and make it a safer community," said the officer.
But opponents said the bill does not address the roots of gang involvement, and casts too wide a net that could grab innocent people surrounded by a gang culture.
"Some folks, to stay alive, associate with folks who are in gangs," said Anthony Smith of Louisville. "It don't mean that they're going to do gang activity, but the neighborhood that I live in -- for me to be safe -- I've got to be associated with this gang."
Smith is the former head of Louisville's Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods program.
The committee easily passed the bill, but both sides agree they must work together to address the gang problem.
"We work on both the enforcement side of the issue and the intervention side of the issue," said Schroeder.
"We've got to use more efforts than just to law enforce and lock people up," said Eddie Woods of Louisville, who runs the No More Red Dots, anti-violence program.
The bill now goes to the full House, where there could be changes made before a final vote.
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