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Attorney General Bill McCollum Press Release
Statewide Grand Jury Makes Significant Anti-Gang Recommendations in First Interim Report
~ McCollum: State needs to provide enhanced tools for law enforcement and focus on arresting and prosecuting gang members ~
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum and Statewide Prosecutor Bill Shepherd today released the first Interim Report of the 18th Statewide Grand Jury, tasked with investigating criminal gang activity. The Attorney General and the Statewide Prosecutor reiterated that criminal gangs in Florida are not only growing, but are also becoming more violent. The report acknowledges that law enforcement and prosecutors are attacking the problem, but increased enforcement tools and long-term joint investigations are critical. The Attorney General said developing and implementing a state strategy to combat gangs is a top priority and a commitment to arrest and prosecute gang members and gang leaders is a crucial part of this strategy.
“For the first time, the state is fully focused on the growing and deadly threat gangs are posing to our state,” said Attorney General McCollum. “The Grand Jury has provided its recommendations, and we will take up this charge to protect our state and turn back the dangerous tide of these organized criminal operations.”
The Statewide Grand Jury’s recommendations focus on acknowledging the gang problem and resolving, through all levels and branches of government, to attack it; protecting witnesses by enhancing witness tampering statutes and by closing the revolving door of automatic pre-trial bond releases; streamlining the statutory definition of criminal gang member to close existing loopholes and updating the criminal RICO statute; providing additional training and resources for law enforcement and prosecutors; and ensuring law enforcement’s continued collection and sharing of criminal gang intelligence. The Grand Jury also recently announced its first indictments, charging 10 members of the dangerous statewide gang SUR-13 with criminal racketeering charges in December.
“It is critical that we strengthen our enforcement capabilities and enhance penalties for gang members,” said Statewide Prosecutor Bill Shepherd. “By taking innovative approaches and maintaining a determined front against these criminals, we are taking back our state one arrest, conviction and sentence at a time.”
Statistics show that more than 1,000 gangs with an estimated 65,000 members are active in our state. These gangs are highly organized national and international criminal operations that recruit new members on a daily basis. The Attorney General and Statewide Prosecutor were joined by members of the law enforcement community who commended the Attorney General’s anti-gang commitment across the state.
“The effort to combat gangs must start in our communities and our neighborhoods and this report lays out the recommendations which will be essential to this all-encompassing effort,” said Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association. “I commend the Attorney General for his leadership and his commitment to fight the growth and spread of gangs in our state.”
Organized by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, the Grand Jury has been charged with investigating criminal gang activity and indicting individuals for crimes which can include drug trafficking, robbery and assault, as well as violations of the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization (RICO) Act. The jurors are also studying various criminal issues and through the report have made recommendations to the legislature on needed laws to deter gang activities and punish those involved in these pursuits. Additionally, jurors are tasked with providing educational and prevention recommendations to law enforcement agencies, schools, churches and other community based organizations to assist in keeping Florida’s children safe. The Grand Jury has been presided over by Palm Beach County Judge Kathleen Kroll and has been immensely assisted by State Attorney Barry Krischer, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock.
The Attorney General also expressed his commitment to working during the upcoming Legislative Session with Senator Jeff Atwater (R-Palm Beach) and Representative William Snyder (R-Stuart), the sponsors of the gang legislation originally filed in August, to add the Grand Jury’s recommendations. The filed legislation is House Bill 43 and Senate Bill 76.
A copy of the report is available here.
Images of the gang members indicted in December are here.