FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 3, 2004
Schumer Unveils New Plan To Give Capital Region Tough New Tools To Fight Gangs
Schumer plan will set up $133 million in new Federal funding for new prosecutors, witness protection, and federal-state-local coordination
Plan will also let prosecutors go for death penalty or life imprisonment for gang members without tying up resources in a RICO case
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled sweeping bipartisan legislation that would give prosecutors tough new tools to go after gang activity in Capital Region, where at least sixteen active gangs operating in the Capital Region. Schumer said that in light of the occurrence of gang activity in the area it is vital that law enforcement be beefed up with more personnel, stronger punishments for criminals, and more money to fund special tough-on-crime programs.
"It's not something we like to highlight, but gangs are one of the Capital Region's threats to public safety and quality of life," Schumer said. "Local, state and federal officials here have been fighting hard to take gang members down and break gangs up, but they could use more help on the federal level. This law gives them tough new options to throw the book at gang members – it even makes it easier for them to pursue the death penalty when that's the right thing to do."
According to law enforcement officials, at least 16 gangs have been identified in the Capital Region in recent years – including the Bloods, Crypts, Latin Kings, Hells Angels, Cleanaz in Schenectady, and Orange Street Boyz or OSB, in Albany. In May, 2003, three members of the nationally known Crips gang got into a cab in Schenectady and told the driver to take them to Albany, where they violently stabbed and tried to shoot him. In July, 2003, a 20 year old member of the “Cleanaz” gang was shot to death in a drive-by shooting in an Schenectady intersection on a Monday afternoon.
The Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act, that Schumer is co-sponsoring with Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and 5 other Senate Republicans will be introduced within the next few weeks and create new federal offenses to let prosecutors go after street gangs, strengthen existing penalties against gangs, and let more prosecutors try juveniles who commit serious violent crimes as adults. The Act also lets prosecutors use the death penalty against gang members without having to use the RICO Act, which ties up valuable law enforcement resources. Specifically Schumer's Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act will:
• Make gang recruitment a new crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. The Act will also instate tough new jail penalties for trying to recruit a minor under the age of 18 to reduce gang recruitment in high schools.
• Make committing 2 gang street crimes punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The Act creates a new federal crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison to participate in a criminal street gang by committing two or more "predicate gang crimes" – crimes that help the gang or are initiation rites to get into the gang. The Act also makes it a crime to help a gang or gang members commit a crime.
• Give the death penalty or life imprisonment to gang members who commit murder – saving prosecutors from having to use more complicated RICO laws to get these harsher penalties. Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) prosecutions are difficult, confusing, and time consuming, which takes away valuable law enforcement resources that could be used to prosecute other crimes. Under this Act, if defendant participating in a street crime commits murder, they are eligible for life imprisonment or the death penalty without having to resort to RICO.
• Makes it easier for prosecutors to treat 16-year-olds as adults if they commit serious violent offenses like murder, manslaughter, carjacking, or armed robbery. The Act makes it easier for a prosecutors to charge minors 16 and older as adults in federal courts after a hearing and an assessment of the circumstances. Schumer noted that judges will review cases to ensure that is in the interest of justice to charge a juvenile as an adult. Schumer noted that judges will only make this assessment after they have considered the age of the defendant, the nature of the offense and whether it is a serious violent crime, the juvenile's criminal record, the juvenile's intellectual development and his response to prior treatment, and the availability of any programs in federal and state courts to help him in making this decision.
• Requires that gang members be given separate consecutive sentences anytime they are convicted of both being in a gang and committing violence as part of the gang. Under this act, for example, a criminal who is selling drugs for a gang and shoots someone in the process will now be given consecutive sentences for both the shooting and the gang-related drug sale.
The Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act will also create $463 million in federal funding programs to fight gang violence because it will:
• Designate "High Intensity Interstate Gang Activity Areas" and authorizes $50 million a year for them for 5years (for a total of $250 million). Based on the Federal Drug Czar's "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas" program run by the Drug Czar's office, the Act allows the US Attorney General to designate certain areas as high gang areas, to create local task forces and to send other federal money and resources to fight a gang problem in that area. It automatically calls for the creation of Gang Task Forces in these areas to include agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Service, Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement.
• Hire 94 New Federal Prosecutors at a cost of $7.5 million year for them for 5 years (for a total of $37.5 million) to Expand the Justice Department's Project Safe Neighborhoods Program, which is being used by the U.S. Attorneys for the Western District of New York to aggressively fight gun and gang related crimes.
• Provide $20 million a year for 5 years (for a total of $100 million) for local witness protection programs and for grants to state and local prosecutors to combat violent crime. At Schumer’s request, 60% of this money or $12 million a year for 5 years (for a total of $60 million) would be earmarked solely for creating and improving state and local witness protection programs.
• Provide $5 million a year for 5 years (for a total of $25 million) for the FBI's "Safe Streets Program" which is used to fight gangs and related street gangs. These funds will pay for new FBI agents and the resources needed to support them.
Schumer said that the Act's chances of passing are strong because of its bipartisan support from members of the Judiciary Committee, and Schumer said that the Capital Region is likely to get significant support because the new federal funds will focus on areas with a prevalence of gangs.
Schumer said that the Act also authorizes an additional, separate $40 million a year (for a total of $200 million) for programs that help young people stay out of gangs including community-based programs to provide crime prevention, research, and intervention services for gang member and at-risk youth in high-risk areas. The Act also directs the US Sentencing Commission to increase penalties for gang-related crimes.
"No Capital Region resident should have to live in fear of gang violence – not one. The US Attorneys and the FBI are already doing everything they can to work hand-in-glove with local law enforcement to eradicate gang violence here, and this new law would give them even more power and authority both to prevent gang violence and to punish it," Schumer said.
Schumer was joined today at Schenectady's City Hall by Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton, Chief of Police Michael N. Geraci, Sr., Schenectady County DA Robert Carney, Troy Police Chief Nicholas Kaiser, Albany County DA Paul Clyne, and Rensselaer County DA Patricia DeAngelis.