News 12 First at Five, June 14, 2007
AIKEN, S.C.---Gang-related crimes are escalating, and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is hoping to slow down some of that gang activity with a new law.
One local police department says the law is right on time and will help them in their fight against gangs.
The new law is called the Criminal Gang Prevention Act. It's aimed at providing new measures and new tools for law enforcement agencies to combat and prosecute gang activity. That's good news for Aiken Public Safety.
Organized gang activity is in the schools, in the neighborhoods and all over Aiken. Back in February, an alleged "showdown" broke out in the McDonald's parking lot on York Street.
"Oftentimes a lot of people deny that the gangs exist," said Capt. Wendell Hall. "I think the governor is taking a step past that and saying they are here, let's deal with it."
Aiken Public Safety has devoted the past two years to monitoring gang activity in Aiken. Capt. Hall says now that the governor has signed the new act into law, it will help his department in their fight against gang violence.
"We need the support of our legislators for us to be able to do the job on the street," Capt. Hall said. "It looks like it will give us some additional tools to deal with gang activity, and that's always a good thing."
One of those additional tools is a new database for tracking gang activity. That database will be available to all police agencies across the state and will help identify known gang members.
"We are also running an effort to identify our gang members, and if they violate the law, we will hold them accountable," Capt. Hall said. "We hope we will be able to be successful in curtailing some of the violence."
Around 700 gang-related crimes were committed last year. Before 1990, six percent of law enforcement agencies in South Carolina had reported gang-related activity. And by 2001, 52% of the state's law enforcement had reported gang activity within their jurisdictions.
This new law gives the state grand jury the ability to investigate gang activity anywhere in the state.