Attorney General Bill McCollum News Release
October 25, 2007
Media Contact: Jenn Meale
Phone: (850) 245-0150
Attorney General Announces Collaborative Efforts to Develop a Statewide Anti-Gang Strategy
~Sunshine State targets largest increase in gang activities nationwide ~
TALLAHASSEE, FL - Surrounded by state and local leaders, Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced a collaborative effort initiated by his agency to develop a Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, Florida experienced more growth in gang activity over a twenty-five year period than any other state in the nation. These statistics underscore the importance for the cooperative strategy.
“Today, gang activity is found in every county in our state. My goal in bringing together this Executive Group is to combine many great resources of talent and expertise and to develop a thoughtful and deliberative Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum. “The long-range plan of the group will be a comprehensive outline that will include efforts to educate our youth and to dramatically reduce gang membership and activities throughout Florida.”
The Executive Group was created to examine the significant and growing threat criminal gangs pose to the safety of the citizens of Florida. These gangs traffic illegal drugs throughout Florida’s communities; are involved in an increasing number of violent crimes utilizing firearms; regularly commit acts of violence that threaten public safety; and commit a large number of personal and property crimes. Gangs and gang-related activities are on the rise in Florida and the members of the Executive Group all recognize that if not stopped or reversed, this growing activity will translate into a much larger threat to Florida in the years to come. State leaders today acknowledged that threat and expressed their commitment to take concerted action to ensure the safety of Florida’s citizens.
The statewide gang reduction strategy will take a two-pronged approach – a law enforcement effort and an educational effort focused on prevention and intervention – to address the critical issues concerning gang membership identification, gang recruitment, risk factors for youth, prevention, crime suppression and post conviction or adjudication diversion. The long-range plan will include gang suppression and deterrence techniques; prosecution and criminal justice system enhancements; prevention and intervention; data and intelligence sharing; education and training; and rehabilitation and reentry efforts for former gang members.
"Our recently completed survey asked criminal justice agencies about gangs in Florida and the results indicate that criminal street gangs are a clear and present threat across the state," said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "FDLE is pleased to be part of this collaborative effort to make our streets safer."
While most gang activity in Florida appears to be centered in the cities of Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Palm Beach and Lakeland, statistics show that no area remains untouched. Information from the Department of Corrections reveals that gang members are operating in every county in the state. Recently, the state has seen a significant increase in crimes committed by gang members in Panhandle cities including Panama City, Marianna, Greensboro, Quincy, and Tallahassee with an emphasis in growth over the past three years. As of July 2007, the top 10 counties with gang members in prison are Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, Palm Beach, Volusia, Lee and Manatee, in that order.
“Gangs represent a significant public safety threat both inside our prisons and within our communities,” said Department of Corrections Secretary James R. McDonough. “As the number of gangs increase, this collaboration is vital as we work to negate gang activity.”
All indications show that the number of gang members in Florida continues to grow as well as the number of crimes committed by gang members. The number of felony convictions for gang members rose from 2,759 in fiscal years 2004-2005 to 4,447 in fiscal years 2006-2007. This represents a 61 percent increase in crimes committed by gang members in Florida over the past three years. The crimes most frequently committed by gang member inmates include homicide, armed robbery, assault, drug distribution and weapons violations.
"Gangs are no longer just a big city problem," said Baker Co. Sheriff Joey Dobson, President of the Florida Sheriffs Association. "Law enforcement agencies in communities as diverse as Miami and Marianna have to come up with creative strategies to address the growing gang threat in our neighborhoods, and we applaud the Attorney General's emphasis on a statewide approach."
“The entire membership of the Florida Police Chiefs Association commends the Attorney General for recognizing the serious threat that gang related criminal activity poses to our State and its citizens,” said Skip Clark, President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “This is an issue we can no longer overlook as it impacts all communities directly or indirectly. We applaud Attorney General McCollum’s efforts to address and find a working solution to this problem.”
Attorney General McCollum also unveiled a new component of his Safe Florida website which will be dedicated to providing local, state and national resources for the education and prevention of gang activity. The anti-gang component can be found online at http://www.safeflorida.net/safestreets and will include educational components designed to reach out to Florida’s youth.
"The threat of gangs remains a serious matter to Florida's students and schools," said Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg. "Research demonstrates that academic success and positive school experiences that connect students with teachers in positive ways are two of the most influential factors that can protect youth from gang involvement."
In addition to the introduction of the collaborative efforts, the Attorney General announced that his office will be holding a gang strategy summit in the coming months to invite input from stakeholders and other interested parties across the state. The Executive Group will then work to help Florida’s communities form partnerships with law enforcement officials, educators, health care providers, social agency workers, faith leaders and elected officials with the specific goal of reducing gangs.
"By creating a "zero-tolerance" comprehensive gang control strategy, Florida will take a giant step forward in combating gang violence within our communities. The development of this strategy reflects our most solemn obligation; to protect the security and safety of all Floridians, especially our children from the threat of gang violence," said Rusty Keeble, President of the Florida Gang Investigators Association and the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Association.
Members of the Executive Group include:
· Commissioner Gerald Bailey, Florida Department of Law Enforcement
· Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg
· Secretary Robert Butterworth, Department of Children and Families
· Secretary James McDonough, Department of Corrections
· Secretary Walter McNeil, Department of Juvenile Justice
· Colonel Bill Janes, director, Office of Drug Control
· Lt. Colonel John Czernis, interim director, Florida Highway Patrol
· Sheriff Joey Dobson, president, Florida Sheriffs Association
· Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell
· Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark II, president, Florida Police Chiefs Association
· State Attorney Willie Meggs, of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.