Southwest Idaho police officers look for telltale signs on suspects, take scrupulous notes, and build files. Someone who meets at least two criteria under the 2-year-old Idaho Criminal Gang Enforcement Act can be documented as a gang member and risks longer jail time if convicted of a crime, says the Idaho Statesman. Lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and city leaders have lauded the new gang law for providing more tools to fight the area’s growing gang problem.
Some local residents say the law’s enforcement smacks of profiling: unfair targeting of people because of how they look, where they live or who they hang out with. They question the law’s effectiveness and fairness. Residents who say they have no connection to gangs but have been stopped for very minor offenses and asked to admit gang membership. Pullling someone over on a minor offense, then keeping an eye out for something bigger is a time-honored police tactic that helps officers solve crimes. Ray Serrano says Idaho’s Gang Enforcement Act is too arbitrary and puts unfair scrutiny on young Hispanic males. Serrano, valedictorian from Nampa High School’s Class of 2000, recently returned to his hometown and was alarmed by the number of stories he heard about people being targeted under the state’s new gang law. “At first I was skeptical,” he said. “I figured they must have asked for it. But the stories started coming up more and more.”