Major funds were included in this year’s state budget to help curb gang activity in Pennsylvania.
The state dedicated $2.5 million to create a new Mobile Street Crimes Unit.
The new unit will function as an arm of Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office. It will be comprised of resources from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation & Drug Control, and local police departments.
Senate majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said the unit will be very helpful to local authorities struggling to reduce criminal activity among street gangs in Pennsylvania.
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“The new Mobile Street Crimes Unit has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against gang violence. Having this kind of support from the state Attorney General’s office can be a huge boost for local law enforcement agencies, whose resources are often stretched thin,” Pileggi said.
“This unit will allow us to have strike teams and to be able to work with local law enforcement and federal agencies to curb the drug activity on a street level and then work its way up to the supplier level. Plus the attorney general’s office will have statewide jurisdiction, so wherever there is an area of concentration on drug trafficking, they’re able to move in with this unit,” 44th District Senator John Rafferty said.
In a bipartisan effort, Pileggi, Rafferty, Senator Ted Erickson, Senator Lisa Baker and Senator John Yudichak passed legislation last year that made criminal gang recruitment a crime in Pennsylvania. The legislation added Pennsylvania to a growing list of states, including Delaware and New Jersey that have anti-gang recruitment laws.
“Last fall, I worked closely with Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and many others to enact a new state law which makes gang recruitment illegal. That effort grew out of the evidence we’re seeing at the local level – that gang activity is increasing in Pennsylvania, even in suburban and rural areas. The funding for the Mobile Street Crimes Unit is another major step forward in the effort to make our communities safer,” Pileggi said.
Just yesterday, DA Tom Hogan announced a major drug ring bust in Chester County called Operation Tuberia Rota, which translates in English to Operation Broken Pipeline. Sixteen men were arrested that Hogan said had direct ties to drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico.
Senators Rafferty and Yudichak agreed that gangs and gang-related crimes not only affect the metropolitan areas but the entire state of Pennsylvania.
“We’re seeing a growth of gangs and gang recruitment all throughout the commonwealth. People have the tendency to think that it might be just urban areas, but it’s not,” Rafferty said.
“Gang violence is not unique to big cities; the influence and reach of dangerous gangs and violence is spreading to small communities across the Commonwealth – and particularly throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. A 2011 U.S. Department of Justice report on gang activity in Eastern Pennsylvania made it very clear that the I-81 corridor linking the cities of Hazleton/Wilkes-Barre and Scranton had become a business destination point for gangs trafficking drugs out of Philadelphia and New York City,” Yudichak said.
“Attorney General Kane and members of the General Assembly knew that we had to take action and fight back against the spread of gangs before this problem became an epidemic – and with the first gang-specific law now on the books and the new mobile street crime unit in our communities, we are making great strides in public safety in Pennsylvania.”
The funds to create the unit were requested by Attorney General Kathleen Kane at public hearings on the state's budget in February and was approved by the Senate last week. There is no clear time line as to how soon the new unit will be deployed but Rafferty says Kane intends to activate the unit very soon.