Gov. Crist signs Gang Prevention Act into law – Gang Activity is now Terrorism

Gov. Crist signs law designed to hit gangs

(Miami Herald) – Gov. Charlie Crist came to Palm Beach County on Monday to sign a law that he and other political leaders hope “will drive a stake into the heart of gangs in Florida.”

The Criminal Gang Prevention Act provides for possible life imprisonment for street gang leaders and for gang members convicted of a felony and later found in possession of firearms.

It strengthens witness protection measures in gang-related prosecutions, and makes it harder for gang members to be released on bail by emphasizing that money used for bail not be profits derived from criminal behavior.

It also makes it a crime to use any electronic communication, including the Internet, to promote gangs or to threaten others in connection with gang-related activities.

”We will not give up one street corner to gangs,” said state Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, a sponsor of the law. “We will not give up on the youth of this community.”

Many of the law’s provisions are based on recommendations from an 18-member state grand jury that has been meeting in Palm Beach County since last summer.

The summoning of that grand jury followed an outbreak of gang violence around the state in the previous two years. Palm Beach County, in particular, saw an increase in gang-related shootings and homicides.

Statewide prosecutor William Shepherd, speaking at the signing Monday, said the grand jury had been convened in Palm Beach County, “because many of the problem solvers were right here.”

But so were many of the problems.

Palm Beach Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Wallace, head of the county’s Violent Crimes Task Force, estimated Monday that gang-related homicides ”were down about 40 or 50 percent” in the first quarter of this year compared with last year. He credited increased law enforcement presence.

Friday, authorities announced the arrest of 11 members of the Top 6, a largely Haitian-American gang based in Lake Worth and Boynton Beach.

The gang had been connected to some 150 shooting and 14 homicides in recent years.

All 11 gang members were held in lieu of $1 million bail on racketeering charges, which carry a potential 30-year sentence.

In December, 10 alleged members of the national Sur 13 gang were also arrested and charged with racketeering. Prosecutors have used criminal statutes that had traditionally been employed against organized crime mobsters, such as the Mafia, to go after the gang members.

© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

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