The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals

It has been my ongoing impression that the people who create gang laws think that gangs recruit exclusively from the lower-class, uneducated, unambitious parts of our society. Though some of the followers may be found in these populations, a good amount of gang leaders would make good non-gang (read: not criminal) leaders had they made different decisions. There's a term called 3G2 (Third Generation Gangs) that may explain why focusing on the low-hanging fruit (more on that another time) is not a good idea.

With that said, our lawmakers have a habit of offering us feel-good anti-gang laws that either have no teeth or no application. I think the placement of the law in the "Laws On Children, Youth And Families section is an indicator of this.

If the laws lack teeth, police officers cannot use them for what they were (maybe) intended. An example of the no-teeth part might be seen in Tennessee Code Annoted (TCA) 40-35-121, which I have been told is fairly useless as an enhancement guideline for sentencing.

The Code allows for serious gang-related crime to be charged/enhanced one (1) classification higher than the crime committed. The requirements to be met, however, are much steeper than simply showing the suspect is a gang-member. Moving the hurdle higher is like taking the teeth out of it, the law won't be used.

If the laws have no application, then they don't apply to the real world -- indicating the creation of the law was neither well-thought-out nor well-coordinated. An example of this no application part would be the federal legislation "intended" to prohibit active gang members from serving in the military. That's another topic for another day.

Lately, at least in Tennessee, there appears to be a shift. Not only are gang cops consistently busting their butts to identify and arrest criminal gang activity, but now the legislators are showing signs they are listening. 

The new law, introduced by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who introduced the bill along with Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, would place criminal gang offenses within the state’s existing Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, where convictions would be class B felonies with sentences ranging from at least 12 to 20 years. You should note, though, that cases big enough for RICO-like charges are likely to get the attention of the Federal Prosecutors, as noted by Sgt. Todd Royval. It was the federal RICO laws that were successfully used against the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) a few years back.

The measure expands RICO, previously restricted to child pornography and drug trafficking.

It redefines "racketeering activity" to include committing, attempting to commit, conspiring to commit or soliciting or coercing someone else to commit a criminal gang offense, including threatening or knowingly causing injury or death; receiving money or anything of value from the commission of an aggravated burglary; or from the illegal sale, delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance or firearm.

Note that it's the RICO laws that are being expanded, but the original law is being incorporated into it. It will take some time to see if the prosecutors can/will do something with this. I know they could not before this.

What do you think?

Public disclaimer: I am a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigator's Association, headquartered in Hixson, so I might have a propensity to think gang cops don't get enough support.

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updated 6/13/12 -- removed dead link to news article (Anti-Gang Law Rarely Used:

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