House committee passes bill to toughen sentences for gang crimes

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would change Kentucky laws relating to gang violence.

House Bill 315, also know as the Gang Violence Protection Act, would toughen sentencing guidelines for crimes determined to be a part of gang activity.

Both the assistant chief and a detective with the Louisville Metro Police Department testified during the hearing. They said that many recent murder victims in their city have been under the age of 26. They say many accused in those crimes are between the ages of 15 and 25.

Officers testified that children in their communities are being recruited into gangs.

"It is not uncommon for us to see a ten-year-old that is in a gang. That is a 4th grader and that is unacceptable," said Assistant Chief Kim Kraeszig with Louisville Metro.

The head of gang enforcement at the Fayette County Attorney's Office echoed that statement.

"The first case I worked with our prosecutors, a nine-year-old was recruited to hold guns for people. There's no way around that, that is just bad," said Greg Howard.

Officers who testified on the bill say it is greatly needed because they are currently dealing with what they call antiquated laws.

"We have groups of kids that by every thing they are doing they are gangs. But based on the laws we have we can't classify them as gangs," said Assistant Chief Kraeszig.

Another officer added, "A 16-year-old today is not what a 16-year-old was ten years ago."

Officers say because of this, many offenders committing crimes as a group are only prosecuted as an individual.

Johnathan Bastian, the Lexington FOP vice president, told the committee that this bill would curtail gang membership. He testified that criminal gangs are not limited to large cities and urban areas.

"Gangs are a cancer spreading across out nation and across our state," Bastian said. "Gangs attempt to promise a family but in the process destroy other families."

Bastian testified that by focusing on gang members and gang recruitment, police can reduce street crime and victimization. He says the bill would then help the judicial system keep the offenders off the street.

However, some testified about the concerns this bill could create.

Rebecca DiLoreto with Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said, "This bill will fill up our jails, it will fill up our prisons."

She added that it would take away from programs used to intervene and redirect those being introduced to criminal activity at a young age.

Kate Miller with the ACLU testified, "This bill will unfairly impact Kentuckians who are black and brown."

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, responded, "This bill has nothing to do with race and everything to do with protecting the innocent."

The bill passed a committee vote and will now go to the full House for consideration.



 
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