Memphis has a gang problem. Drug sales, carjackings, shootings, and murder are linked to gang activity. Now, local law enforcement has a new weapon in this fight.
"It's one of those things that makes you run your head into the wall. It's something to keep you up at night," says Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.
Governor Bill Haslam signed the state's new gang enhanced sentencing bill at 201 Poplar, surrounded by mid-south police leaders and prosecutors on Wednesday.
The plan was sponsored by state senate majority leader Mark Norris. The Governor says it was crafted with input from local officials. The law defines what is considered a criminal gang offence.
"This will give those specific definitions around robbery, carjacking…possession of a substance with intent to sell that we think will make that easier," says Haslam.
Prosecutors will be able to charge a gang member with one of these offences and there will be an enhanced sentence if the defendant is convicted of the crime, locking up gang members longer.
"The statistics show that there's twice as many gang members in Tennessee as there are law enforcement. But this law will give some very specific remedies that will make it easier for prosecutors to go after gang related crime. So we're excited to sign this and we really expect it to make a difference," continued Haslam.
Prosecutors will have to prove the defendant is a member of a criminal gang and they conspired to commit the crime with at least three others. 26 different crimes fall under the new law.
Police officers say it will help them out on the streets.
"It's great to see that the Governor signed into law something that gives us that teeth that's something that we need to try to curtail some of our gang violence," adds Armstrong.
Short prison sentences for many of these crimes are a sore subject for many prosecutors and police officers. This new law will offer some tough new alternatives for violent gang criminals.
It goes into effect July 1.
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