Even before last week's shootout at a Kansas City church, authorities were devising new ways to stem the surging drug crime and violence associated with street gangs, reports the Kansas City Star. They include a new partnership between federal and county prosecutors that could help define the gang threat more clearly, and the use of a federal sentencing scheme that could send the worst gang members to prison for up to 10 years longer than before. Federal court records will reveal more often when violent criminals are suspected of being gang members.
“We're trying to change what we do in the office on gangs,” said Jeff Valenti, who leads the narcotics unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City. “Gangs create neighborhood problems, and we think we can have a neighborhood impact.” Sgt. Jay Pruetting, who runs the Kansas City police gang squad, said the problem was vast and had grown measurably worse in the last few years. His records showed 3,700 documented local gang members, a 12 percent increase from 3,300 in 2007. Beyond that, possibly thousands more area youth would say they are involved with gangs. Last week, rival gang members exchanged dozens of shots outside of a church at the end of a funeral for a homicide victim. Police were amazed that no one was hit. To study the area’s gang threat, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips obtained $35,000 in anti-drug tax funds. Valenti will use a seldom-invoked federal sentencing enhancement to win much longer sentences for hard-core gangbangers. In some cases, charges for firearms violations and violent crimes will include an allegation that the person is a member of a criminal street gang.