Would seek to make recruiting new members a crime for gangmembers
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
NEW GARDEN — Three Chester County legislators and the county’s District Attorney want to stop growing gang activity in the county in its tracks — by strengthening laws against recruiting young people into gangs.
Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9) and Sen. John Rafferty (R-44) announced Monday that they would introduce a bill in the State Senate making it potentially a felony, under certain circumstances, to attempt to recruit new members for local gangs. The legislation is prompted, they said, by discussions with District Attorney Thomas Hogan, who asked for enhanced law enforcement tools to battle what is seen a s growing gang problem in the southern portion of the county.
Although local law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about growing gang activity in recent years, the issue came to head after two men were stabbed to death at December, 2011 party in Avondale — the victims and the 12 individuals charged in the case had ties to the Sur-13 and Vikings gangs. Both of those groups, among others, have been increasingly active and have been linked to drug and other crimes in the county.
“Most of you when you think of criminal gangs, don’t think about southern Chester County, or Avondale or New Garden Township,” said Pileggi, who is the state Senate’s Majority Leader. “Unfortunately, the events of Dec. 3 brought home the reality that we seem to have a criminal gang problem here.”
“The gangs are beginning to take root,” Rafferty said. “And having an adverse effect on the way of life that we in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County and Bucks County have come to expect. The gangs are now putting their tentacles out to our youth and our community.”
State Sen. Edwin “Ted” Erickson (R-26) is also a co-sponsor.
The new law, if passed by both houses of the state legislature and signed into law would make simple recruitment of members into a criminal gang a misdemeanor, but the use of intimidation, threats or violence would escalate the offense to a felony and give local law enforcement an additional weapon to combat gang activity. If juveniles are being recruited, additional penalties could come into play as well.
Pileggi made it clear the law would not in any way apply to any non-criminal group, such as social clubs or civic organizations and is being very narrowly drafted to specifically cover those groups engaged in criminal activity. Similar laws, Pileggi said, exist in neighboring states such as Delaware and New Jersey.
Hogan began to push for the law after discussions with New Garden Police Chief Gerald Simpson, who asked the District Attorney if there were any other options, following the double homicide, to combat the growth of gangs in the county.
“Chief Simpson and I sat down and looked at legislation from across the nation to see what we could do,” Hogan said. “Part of the problem is that nobody wanted to admit that there was a problem. If you ask law enforcement if gangs are a problem in Pennsylvania, and they’d come back and tell you ‘absolutely.’ But nobody wanted to stand up and admit that there was a problem that needed to be addressed.”
“If this legislation saves just one child from being recruited into a gang, it will be a success,” Hogan said. “We’ve had too many mothers watching their child be dragged off to jail for gang related violence, and too many mothers watching their children be put in the ground, into their graves, dead as a result of gang-related violence.”
Hogan said that the intent of the law is to prevent what he termed the current “junior varsity” level gangs from growing into local chapters of larger, national crime organizations — an attempt to cut it off before it becomes a much larger problem.
He acknowledged that a deterrent would not be enough, that youths need to have an alternative path, a better career option if gang activity is to be kept down — something that can only come with jobs and a revitalized local economy, especially in the county’s poorest areas.
“When you look at a place like Coatesville, for instance, it’s not enough to just lock everybody up,” Hogan said. “Kids coming up have to know there’s another place to go, there’s something else to do with your life, with your career. So it’s not enough to just lock people up, that’s the other side of this. When you’re revitalizing and area, it’s not enough to clear out the bad guys, you have to offer economic opportunity.”
Hogan said that he has pressed that issue as well with Pileggi and Rafferty, that the state needs to assist with providing economic opportunity if gang-related crime is to be kept at bey in the county — and he said his office will be working with local community organizations as well to combat some of the factors that might tempt youth into becoming involved in crime.
Rafferty and Pileggi said they felt that the legislation, still being finalized, could be passed before the end of this year’s session and signed into law.