A trio of southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers is introducing a bill designed to prevent gang violence before it starts The bill would make it a criminal offense to recruit gang members in Pennsylvania. “It will give law enforcement a tool to stop people from trying to recruit young folks into gang activity,” says Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester/Delaware).
The new offense could be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on how the recruitment takes place. Simply soliciting someone to join a gang would be a first-degree misdemeanor. The addition of threats or intimidation would bump the offense up to a third-degree felony, and there would be a sentencing enhancement if bodily harm were involved.
Senator Pileggi tells us the bill was born out of discussions with Chester County DA Thomas Hogan, who is currently prosecuting a dozen teens and young adults for offenses related to the stabbing deaths of two rival gang members.
Listen to Hogan’s comments at this week’s news conference in Chester County:HOGAN
Sen. Pileggi says Pennsylvania’s behind the times on this issue. “We found at least 20-states, including our neighbors in Delaware and New Jersey that have very similar laws in place now.” He says the bill will be up for discussion this fall, and believes it could see action before the end of the legislative session.
Senators John Rafferty (R-Montgomery/Chester) and Ted Erickson (R-Delaware/Chester) are also a part of the legislative push.
Supporters say requiring DNA samples of individuals arrested for serious crimes would be a big boost for law enforcement. “This bill updates our law to ensure that Pennsylvania investigators have access to the most efficient scientific tools to fight crime,” says state Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the bill’s prime sponsor.
Specifically, the bill would expand the eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required, and mandate pre-conviction DNA testing for serious offenses. Those samples would then be available in state and federal law enforcement databases.
But critics at the ACLU of Pennsylvania call it a case of government getting bigger before our eyes. “The government is not able to simply take DNA from people whenever it feels like it,” says ACLU of PA Legislative Director Andy Hoover. “When someone has been arrested they’re still innocent under the law and they have certain rights.”
An honor guard stood watch over 72 American flags that had been placed in front of the Fraternal Order of Police state lodge. That’s one flag for every police officer who died in the line of duty on September 11th, 2001. “9/11 was the deadliest day in law enforcement history, but it was also a day in which innumerable law enforcement officers showed unparalleled courage and bravery,” president of the PA FOP Les Neri said at a Wednesday remembrance ceremony.
State and local police from throughout the state gathered to remember the actions of the heroic police officers who assisted in the rescue efforts in New York, Washington and Somerset County PA. Neri says all were fully aware of the risk they were taking, but they went anyway. “This was not the first time they risked their lives, but unfortunately for 72-heroic officers it was their last.”
Neri says the memorial of 72 American flags at the PA FOP headquarters is a small tribute to honor the memory of those officers. He hopes it can serve as a reminder that Pennsylvania can never forget the actions and sacrifice made by those 72 officers at a time when the nation needed them the most.
Among the officials attending Wednesday’s ceremony was Corporal Ronald Zona with Troop A of the Pennsylvania State Police in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. Zona was one of the first people on the scene when Flight 93 crashed into a Shanksville field ten years ago. Check back to hear Zona’s first-hand account later in the week.
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