Kentucky has a criminal gang problem.
Lax policies toward gang violence have long served as an impediment to safer families and communities. Gangs prey upon our children, destroying many lives and putting them on a dark path to a life of crime.
Gang activity also leads to the death of our citizens. Not only are homicides in Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville, at an all-time high, but a study released by the Pegasus Institute just last year shows that 85 percent of the city’s homicide cases in 2016 were gang-related. The same study concluded that gangs have been at the root of Louisville’s recent uptick in violent crime.
Governor Bevin recently signed legislation that will crack down on the torrent of violence plaguing our communities. With passage of House Bill 169, the General Assembly sent a message: gang activity will be met with the full brunt of the law.
The continued growth in the strength, size, and reach of criminal gangs in Kentucky is frightening. WDRB recently reported that the FBI has over 30 agents assigned full-time to investigate gang activity in Kentucky alone. HB 169 takes a strong step towards halting this growth.
These gangs engage in drug trafficking, weapons running, and even recruit children to further their efforts.
Once our children step into gang activity, there’s no stepping out. They are recruited into a life of violent crime, and society pays the price for it. Many people who try to leave a gang are subsequently retaliated against, and even tortured.
As recently as last month, three men shot up a Lexington neighborhood after midnight due to a local juvenile’s refusal to join a street gang.
Action was necessary, and the General Assembly delivered.
Kentucky has been behind the curve on tackling this issue. Currently, it is only a misdemeanor for an adult to recruit a child into a gang, a sad reality that is remedied in our legislation. Certainly, if you set a child onto a lifelong course to death or imprisonment, it should at least be a felony offense.
Under this measure, committing numerous gang-related crimes will require that 85 percent of a criminal’s sentence be completed prior to parole eligibility.
Nonetheless, we fully protected the due process rights entitled to all people. An offender’s gang association must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and upheld in a post-conviction hearing.
This commonsense measure is the art of compromise, and also is widely acknowledged to provide more tools to law enforcement to protect our communities. It is supported by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, and widely based on former President Barack Obama’s 21st Century policing guidelines. It is also supported by branches of the Fraternal Order of Police.
This gang prevention measure is targeted and evidence-based. It puts Kentucky in line with the vast majority of states as well as the federal government when it comes to defining gang violence.
It also shows that we value human life. And it holds criminals accountable for heinous crimes.
HB 169 is a strong step toward protecting our communities and saving lives. Those are efforts that will benefit all Kentuckians.
Kevin Bratcher is a state representative representing the 29th District.
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