Senate bills aim to combat gang violence with tougher sentences, gang-free school zones

Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

After a recent increase in gang violence in New York, legislators have introduced two bills that would help investigate, prosecute and prevent gang activity in the state.

In the past two years, the gang MS-13 has taken at least 25 lives on Long Island alone.

The bills being acted on in the Senate this month aim to prevent gang violence in urban and suburban communities.

According to the legislation, a gang is defined as a criminal street gang that engages in a pattern of criminal street gang activity for its benefit or for the benefit of one or more members.  It is an association of two or more individuals identified by a common name, sign, dress, symbols, tattoos or other mark or markings. Crimes committed by street gangs range from petty crimes to murder and sexual assault.

The first bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden, R-Bay Ridge, makes it easier to prosecute gang violence by enacting the “Criminal Street Gang Enforcement and Prevention Act” (S.2410a).

This legislation would create more legal options available to prosecutors by legally defining criminal street gangs in New York’s penal statutes.

If a person is convicted of participation in criminal gang activity that is a violent felony offense, the crime would also be deemed a violent felony offense.

If the offense is a misdemeanor or class “A”, “D”, or “E” felony, the crime is deemed one category higher than the offense committed. When the crime is a class “B” felony, the prison term would range from a minimum of four to twelve years in prison. Lastly, if the gang activity offense is a class “A-1” felony, the minimum sentence would be 20 years.

The bill would also create anti-crime programs that focus on patterns of gang activity, expand education in schools to prevent gang growth and establish an ongoing gang activity tracking system.

“As a former New York City police officer, I know that gangs on our streets destroy communities, schools and families,” Golden said. “This legislation approved by the state Senate will establish stricter penalties and education programs to reduce gang violence.”

The bill has passed the Senate and is currently in the Assembly Codes Committee.

The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Great Kills, establishes a Class D felony charge for gang members who solicit new members on school property (S.6211a).  

The legislation makes it a crime to recruit members to join a criminal street gang on school grounds, which would help prevent gang activity in and around schools. It also allows the classification of “Gang Free School Zones” on school grounds to help protect students and staff.

“School grounds” is defined as in or on any building, structure, athletic field, playground within the real property boundary line of a public or private school.  It also is defined as any area accessible to the public located within one thousand feet of the boundary line, including restaurants, sidewalks, parking lots, or streets.

The bill is awaiting action in the Senate and Assembly after being amended.

In addition to these bills, this year’s final budget provides $500,000 to local law enforcement to help support programs that prevent gang violence in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Another $5.8 million was secured by the Senate in the budget for equipment and technology improvement, as well as crime, violence and drug prevention programs.  

“We must not only work to prevent the formation of gangs, but we should penalize, track and educate their members, so that the dangers they cause on our streets can end,” Golden said. “The state Assembly should no longer stand as a roadblock to this bill becoming law.”