OFF THE WIRE
Just read this recent article. Looks as if they may once again try to pass a new gang law. As you can see from the article we are getting our point across that when you try to define a gang it winds up including more than the intended persons and groups. Keep a watchful eye on this next session.
Hopkinsville Legislators and Law Enforcement Working Together to Stop Gang Violence in Christian County
HOPKINSVILLE, KY (wkms) - On the streets of Hopkinsville there are signs of a growing change in the city's personality, if you know where to look. Hats, bandanas, colorful graffiti all facets of urban identity that together symbolize an underlying problem. In Hopkinsville, like many U.S. cities; the problem is gangs. Shelly Baskin reports on the measures Prosecutors and Legislators are taking to stop the spread of gangs in the city.
Christian County Commonwealth's Attorney Lynn Pryor has been prosecuting gang members for several years now. But a 2008 murder stands out to her as especially violent. Pryor said,
"Some gang members from Clarksville drug a girl into Christian County; shot at her 15 times, hit her with 9 bullets Because she had made a report on one of them about a stolen X-Box and they brought her into Kentucky to kill her."
That's the story of Shyara Olavarria, one of the more gruesome gang related crimes to occur in C. Pryor says after Olavarria's murder the gang members went back to Tennessee and within an hour shot an opposing gang member. She says the gang members brought Olavarria to Kentucky because the laws against gangs in the Commonwealth aren't as strict as those of other states. She said,
"I have had several of them tell me that they are coming into Kentucky because we don't have adequate laws to address gang issues here, where some of the other states do."
That's because while other states add time to their sentences for crimes committed as a gang member, Kentucky doesn't. Because of this, gang members will travel to Kentucky to commit more serious crimes to avoid a longer sentence. That's something Kentucky House Representative John Tilley is trying to prevent. As the state representative for parts of Trigg and Christian county, including Hopkinsville, Tilley has a vested interest in the success of gang enforcement measures. He's been working with prosecutors and law enforcement to introduce more effective laws for the state. Tilley said,
"We have to listen to our prosecutors and law enforcement in that it is too difficult to use the current existing law. So whether we revise current law or scrap it for another scheme all together is something we have to look at going forward."
Tilley says that while most legislators agree that the new laws are necessary, he's still having trouble getting them passed. He says people are worried that the wording of the laws would affect other groups besides the gangs. He said,
"There's been some resistance for instance by legitimate motorcycle clubs and some of these things and other clubs that it could be misconstrued as a criminal gang."
But Attorney Pryor says that's not the case. She said,
"We aren't trying to limit anybody's ability to associate with whoever they want to associate with. What we are trying to limit is using that group to commit crimes, whether is be drug crimes, violent assaults, or even murders."
But everyone agrees that stricter legislation is only part of the equation. Christian County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Noisworthy says law enforcement also needs the tools to find out who gang members are and where they are. He said,
"Right now what we'd like to see is a statewide gang database and a statewide validation."
Tilley agrees. He said,
"I think the database is crucial. I think that is something we have to get done. We have to be satisfied that law enforcement and the prosecutorial community has the tool that it needs to identify the members and keep them on record."
He says he's been working with law enforcement agencies around the state to find the best way to come up with a viable database for gangs. One option is using one already in place for the state police. The database would use a point based system to determine if someone is an active member of a gang. Deputy Noisworthy says that system would be a major part of properly enforcing the law. He said,
"What we want to make sure is we don't improperly label someone as a gang member. We want to make sure that whenever we get to the point where we have stricter laws on gang members and the crimes that they commit that we can be absolutely sure without a doubt that this person is a gang member."
But Representative Tilley says gang enforcement and punishment only go so far. He says the most important tool isn't legislation or a database, but prevention. And he says the best prevention is the sense of community that's often lacking in areas with strong gang activity.