Bill Targets Gang Violence

Monday, February 16th 2009, 4:09 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There are thousands of gang members in Oklahoma City. Many of them commit crimes across the metro. One state lawmaker wants to toughen the law when it comes to gang violence.

In this bill, a gang member who commits a crime would face another charge just for being a gang member. The lawmaker behind the law says it is a step the state needs to take.

"In Oklahoma we have a tremendous problem with gang activity," Representative Paul Wesselhoft (R-District 54) said.

Representative Wesselhoft is sick of seeing crime scene after crime scene; the results of gang violence.

"This bill is a step in the direction of minimizing gang activity, it's not going to eliminate it by any stretch of the imagination," Wesselhoft said.

Wesselhoft's bill would further punish gang members arrested for another crime. They could face a misdemeanor for being in a gang and an adult could go to jail for six months for knowingly being in a gang with juvenile members.

"I don't want to see our children recruited into criminal street gangs; that really bothers me," Wesselhoft said.

Gangs are a problem and the Oklahoma City Police Department even has a special unit to fight them.

"Typically there's nothing good that comes out of gang life, that's why it's so important to have a gang unit focus on that," Sgt. Gary Knight said.

But, police can only work within the boundaries of what's on the books, whatever laws the legislature passes, police will enforce them.

"Are we going to get rid of every gang out there? Probably not, but we can certainly do our part and work very hard to get as many of them identified and off the streets as possible," Sgt. Knight said.

That's exactly why Wesselhoft is pushing for this bill, to give police another tool, and force gang members to spend some extra time behind bars.

"Maybe that will teach them the lesson that will turn their lives around," Representative Wesselhoft said. "Maybe it won't, but at some point in time you've got to remove these people from the street."

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater says a misdemeanor is not really a deterrent. He says the charge must be a felony to really make a difference.

Representative Wesselhoft says he wants to get the misdemeanor passed first. Then, next year, he'll possibly write another bill to upgrade the charge to a felony.