Feinstein-Hatch Gang Bill a Terrible Idea

Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have teamed up to sponsor a terrible bill--one that panders to irrational fear but resonates politically. It is the "Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act."

The legislation seeks $450 million to aid law enforcement and prosecutors. It is rife with new categories of crimes, added punishments for having a gun or being a gang member and myriad "think twice" measures — hoping gang members will reconsider before committing a crime.

Anyone who knows gangs knows that lawmakers cannot conceive of a law that would lead a hard-core gang member to "think twice." We already have enough gang- and gun-related sentencing "enhancements" to send a 17-year-old who has never been in trouble with the law to prison for 35 years to life. And that's without his ever touching a gun or ever being an actual member of a gang. We need to overhaul these enhancements, not add to them.

Gangs are not all that mysterious. Reformers know what works with them and what doesn't. "Gang experts, intervention practitioners, social scientists, researchers and enlightened law enforcement officials all agree." What works is prevention, intervention and enforcement.

You prevent kids from joining gangs by offering after-school programs, sports, mentoring and positive engagement with adults. You intervene with gang members by offering alternatives and employment to help redirect their lives. You deal with areas of high gang crime activity with real community policing.

There are ways that money could make a difference in curbing gangs--but the Feinstein-Hatch bill doesn't acknowledge them:

Law enforcement doesn't need more tools; it needs more officers. Real community policing requires different deployment, which can happen only with increased personnel. If the Los Angeles Police Department had enough officers, it could focus on one part of the community and stay there long enough to know and respect the people the officers are called on to protect and serve.

....Although the Feinstein-Hatch bill would also allocate $200 million for prevention and intervention, more than three-quarters of that money would be administered by law enforcement. That is as misguided as having Homeboy Industries — a gang rehab center — enforce a gang injunction.

What's really going on here is politics. Feinstein and Hatch are promoting the image of the juvenile super-predator--using fear and hysteria to garner support for their ill-advised bill. A better name for their bill would be the "Gang Fear Pandering Act". It is one that will neither prevent nor deter gang-related crime.

It's time to stop funding wasteful law enforcement initiatives and listen to those who know what works--and it's not the politicians. This turkey of a bill needs to die a fast death.

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