On Monday, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the criminal street gang measure, House Bill 2712. The measure creates a secret gang database and increases penalties for gang-related crimes. The Seattle NAACP is worried that the law will encourage racial profiling and are currently looking at ways to challenge its constitutionality.
In addition, the governor and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs announced that community involvement in gang prevention and intervention program planning will be a required component of all grant applications for enforcement funds. The bill contains no requirements for gang prevention.
In expressing her appreciation to the law enforcement community and legislators, the governor said she wanted to do more.
"I am concerned specific prevention program language was not included in the final gang bill," said Gregoire. "I believe an effective response to addressing criminal street gangs requires a prevention component."
The budget bill, which has yet to be signed into law, contains an appropriation to the association for grant to local communities for short-term strategies in enforcement and graffiti abatement. Budget language allows enough flexibility to include a prevention and intervention planning components to the grants.
The law enforcement association shares the governor's concerns and agreed to require that grants it funds must promote prevention activities.
"We share Gov. Gregoire's concern and we're eager to work with her to ensure that prevention programming is a part of our state's approach to combating the gang issue," said Don Pierce, the law enforcement association's executive director. "As the Work Group on Gang-Related Crime articulated, we can't arrest our way out of the gang issue facing some of our communities. Law enforcement officers know firsthand that we must prevent our youth from entering gangs in the first place."
The anti-gang bill is based on the recommendations of a work group that met last year. The group was composed of legislators from both parties, defense attorneys, prosecutors, juvenile justice advocates, criminal gang experts, police and sheriffs.
"Gangs are on the rise in every corner in Washington State," said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, who authored the bill and co-chaired the work group. "This law is how we fight back to prevent these gangs from terrorizing communities and to stop them from recruiting kids into this dead-end life."
Not everyone, however, is pleased with the passage of the anti-gang bill.
"We're deeply disappointed in passage of HB 2712," said Seattle/King County NAACP president James Bible. "We have ongoing concerns in reference to police profiling in the state of Washington, in King County specifically. Our concerns are confirmed by the reports we've received from people in our community, just in the past week we've had calls from kids who indicated that their teachers or principals wanted to kick them out of school because of the way they do their hair, we've had reports of kids being pulled over for the intent to gang bang, which is no crime that's anywhere on the book, it's a means of harassing children and I think that this will only further that sort of mentality, so were deeply concerned," Bible added. "We're gonna review the possibility of constitutional challenges."
In addition to setting out community involvement and prevention efforts, the bill:
Provides funding to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to set up grant programs to fund local law enforcement activities and community graffiti and tagging abatement programs; establishes a gang database to help law enforcement in tracking gang activity statewide. The bill provides greater protections than current federal law because it contains specific protocols for entering, retaining and purging information in the database to protect individual civil liberties; creates a new category of crime for adults who involve juveniles in a felony offense and makes any crime that is committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang subject to a sentencing enhancement. It also imposes a term of community custody upon release from incarceration for any gang member who commits a crime involving a firearm; creates a category of crime that targets criminal street gang tagging and graffiti. It allows property owners to recover civil penalties and costs from an offender who caused physical damage to their property; allows the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development to establish a witness assistance program in criminal street gang trials; and directs the Department of Corrections to study and establish best practices to reduce gang involvement and recruitment among offenders.
"The database that they've created is supposedly secret, which creates a larger concern," Bible said. "How will you know if you are or are not on that database and whether or not that was wrong. It was a short-sighted bill and I think that in many ways this is geared towards creating a perception that you're guilty while not doing anything whatsoever."