Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Officials share ideas on gangs


Program seeks ways to track, deter violence

BY SPENCER HUNT
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The Cincinnati Police Department will soon share crime-fighting tactics and ideas with the state and other cities' police forces as part of a new push to combat street gangs.

        Over the next two months, the state attorney general's office will use a series of summit meetings to link police and local government officials in Cincinnati and Hamilton to those of 20 other communities. While police, prosecutors and school officials discuss ways to prevent gangs from forming and to track and arrest members, the Ohio attorney general will expand an anti-gang unit to help out.

        “The best way we can attack the gang problem is to combine state resources with the knowledge and experience of local law enforcement, courts, educators and elected officials,” Attorney General Betty Montgomery said Monday. “The best solutions, we believe, will be found locally.”

        The new effort, called “Ohio Against Gangs,” is a reaction to what the attorney general and others describe as a substantial presence of street gangs statewide.

        Federal crime estimates from 1995 listed Ohio with the fourth largest number of active gang members in the nation, behind only California, Illinois and Texas.

       

        More recent statistics, however, show the national estimate of gang membership dropping — from about 847,000 active members in 1996 to 816,000 members in 1997. The attorney general's office was unable to say just how that national decline has played out in Ohio.

        Despite that drop, Ohio Against Gangs is the first statewide response to the problem, Ms. Montgomery said. Past state efforts include a new law that lets prosecutors charge juveniles with “gang” crimes and a two-person gang task force set up by the attorney general in 1996.

        A $235,000 federal crime grant will expand the task force to five people this year.

        The attorney general also said she has high hopes for the anti-gang summits, which will be held in Cincinnati, Hamilton and 20 other Ohio cities between February and March. A schedule for the meetings is still being ironed out.

        Two Cincinnati police officers on hand for the announcement praised the state for its efforts. Sgt. Jim Gramke, commander of the city police division's gang unit, said sharing ideas can only help.

        “Right now we've already heard of a couple of things that other people are doing that we haven't tried,” Sgt. Gramke said.

        Cincinnati Police Officer Eric Smoot said the city has done some work with computers that help identify and track gang members.

        One program identifies reputed gang members when patrol officers access drivers' license and vehicle plate data during traffic stops.

        “This is going to give us a lot of great ideas,” Officer Smoot said of Ohio Against Gangs. “We're going to see what makes a difference and what hasn't worked.”

       



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