NEW GARDEN — About two and a half miles from where two men were stabbed to death in December during a gang-related altercation, local officials announced legislation on Monday that would make gang solicitation a crime in the Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-9 of Chester, the Senate majority leader, announced the legislation he is co-sponsoring with fellow Republicans, Sen. John Rafferty and Sen. Edwin “Ted” Erickson. Erickson, R-26 of Newtown Square, could not attend Monday’s announcement.
Pileggi said he was approached by Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan after the Dec. 3, 2011, stabbing in the 1600 block of Baltimore Pike to see what could be changed in the state law to make gang recruiting more difficult for criminals.
“Out of the ashes of tragedy, sometimes good things can happen,” Hogan said.
Hogan said after discussions with other law enforcement agents, including New Garden Police Chief Gerald Simpson and researching anti-gang laws in other states, they realized they needed a narrow approach to help prevent increased gang activity.
The new law, if passed, would make soliciting new gang members a misdemeanor, using intimidation or harassment as a felony and using physical assault as part of the recruitment process would be a felony with stiffer penalties.
“This would put teeth into the law and give law enforcement what they need to eradicate the presence of gangs in Pennsylvania and southern Chester County,” Rafferty, R-44 of Collegeville, said.
Hogan said Chester County law enforcement agencies have been working with other agencies and have been tracking the active gangs and number of known gang members in the county. He said those details could not be made public, because it is part of ongoing law enforcement. He said Chester County officials have been working closely with law enforcement in Delaware, because the stretch between Kennett Square and Wilmington has become a route for increased gang activity.
Hogan said the new law to make recruitment a crime will only work if it is part of a larger overall plan to provide alternatives to the kids that are susceptible to gang membership. He said there needs to be economic redevelopment in some areas in order to provide a realistic alternative to a gang lifestyle. He said that is especially important in the City of Coatesville in Chester County.
“The gang lifestyle only ends in incarceration or death,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the goal of the new law is prevention.
“If this legislation saves just one child from joining a gang, it will be a success,” Hogan said. “It one young man is saved from dying then it will be worth every dollar spent and every speck of time spent on it.”
Hogan said law enforcement is also working with community organizations to help prevent gang membership.
Pileggi said the hope is to get the legislation passed by the end of the current session in Harrisburg. He said there are eight voting days remaining in the session and believes that is ample time to get the bill passed through both the Senate and the House.
Following the December stabbing, 12 men were arrested for the two murders. Nine of the 12 charged were identified as known members of the gang Surenos 13, or Sur-13. Those arrested range in ages from 16-20 with seven of them being identified as high school students.
In April Jose Juarez Pinto was fatally shot in a murder that law enforcement has not officially connected to gang activity nor solved. However, multiple tags were spray painted near the scene with references to Sur-13. Hogan said, at the time, that the tags did not go unnoticed by investigators.