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Attorney General Bill McCollum Press Release
Attorney General Brings Gang Reduction Strategy to Northwest Florida
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum and members of the Coordinating Council on Gang Reduction Strategies today joined elected and government officials, law enforcement, nonprofit group leaders, school administrators and the business community in Northwest Florida to continue implementing Florida’s first-ever statewide gang reduction strategy. The strategy is being implemented using regional task forces throughout the state, and today’s organizational session at the Emerald Coast Conference Center in Fort Walton Beach follows last month’s regional task force meeting in North Fort Myers.
“I’m gratified to see the participation of Northwest Florida’s community leaders in our aggressive statewide strategy to rid our neighborhoods of gang violence and related crimes,” said Attorney General McCollum. “Florida’s citizens deserve to live in gang-free neighborhoods, and my office is committed to ensuring the success of this effort in every corner of the state.”
Gang activity in Florida has grown to more than 1,500 active criminal gangs with over 65,000 gang members. These gangs are also the primary sales force for illicit drugs in our state and cause much of the violent crime. The prevalence of gang activity hurts business as well as neighborhoods, as organized retail theft costs the industry $32 billion nationwide every year.
Key to the strategy’s success is a cooperative and collaborative effort that addresses the three goals of stopping the growth of gangs in Florida, reducing the number of gangs and gang members, and rendering the remaining gangs ineffectual. Participants at the Region 1 Gang Reduction Task Force Organizing Session are focusing on the areas of prevention/intervention, law enforcement, and rehabilitation and re-entry. Region 1 encompasses Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Gulf, Calhoun and Jackson counties.
An important objective is providing effective intervention programs for young people who are the most likely targets of gang recruitment and identified young gang members. Present at today’s meeting were representatives from local faith-based organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs and other community groups whose core missions are to provide Florida’s youth with a safe and productive alternative to gangs.
The law enforcement community actively participated in today’s initiative to discuss improving data collection and information exchange among state and federal authorities on gangs and gang members and their activities. This component will also focus on coordinating law enforcement and prosecution efforts by setting priorities and targeting the most problematic and dangerous gangs, gang activities and gang-related prosecutions all over Florida. Representatives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, sheriffs’ offices, police departments, members of the Florida Highway Patrol and others were on hand to provide insight and begin planning how to meet their objectives.
The strategy also emphasizes the importance of working to provide gang members currently incarcerated with job training and other essential rehabilitation skills. One of the rehabilitation and re-entry objectives is to expand programs designed to help incarcerated gang members prepare for re-entry into society upon completion of their sentences. Re-entry objectives include counseling and mentoring these former gang members so they will turn toward becoming productive members of society when released. The Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrections, and other parties involved in this particular aspect of the strategy were all present today.
More information about the gang reduction strategy and a list of Coordinating Council members is available online at: http://www.safeflorida.net/safestreets. The next organizational session will be held in Tallahassee on December 17, 2008.