State’s anti-crime package takes years to bring significant impact
by ERIC WATSON, State Rep.
Sep 16, 2012 | 408 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In addition to fighting drug abuse, Gov. Bill Haslam joined me and other legislators in the last session of the Tennessee General Assembly to push forward a public safety package that includes legislation to curb violent crime and lower the rate of repeat offenders.

Several bills passed this year are part of a package of public safety bills included in the governor’s legislative agenda. The bills were recommended by a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group composed of more than 10 government agencies which held meetings with more than 300 leaders in law enforcement, substance abuse and corrections. The group developed 11 objectives and 40 action steps in their multiyear safety action plan with the goal of significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking, curbing violent crime and lowering the rate of repeat offenders in Tennessee.

Curbing domestic violence

Legislation which strengthens penalties for domestic violence met the approval of lawmakers this year. The "Repeat Domestic Violence Offender" bill prescribes mandatory jail time and enhanced fines for repeat offenders.

Tennessee is ranked fifth in the nation for women murdered by men as a result of domestic violence.

House Bill 2398 provides at least 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to $3,500 for those convicted of a second offense for domestic violence when bodily injury occurs. Upon a third or a subsequent conviction, the mandatory jail time would increase to 90 days and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. In counting prior convictions, the bill provides for a 10-year look-back provision for domestic violence due to serious bodily injury similar to the one used in the state’s drunk driving law.

Gangs & violence

Among the anti-crime bills passed this year is a measure to address gang violence in Tennessee. House Bill 2390 bumps up penalties by one classification if “a crime of force or violence is committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons.” The bill addresses certain types of serious crimes not covered by the state’s “Crooks with Guns” law. A person robbed by a gang has a much greater chance of suffering severe injury or death than a person robbed by an individual attacker.

The “Crooks with Guns” laws were designed to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping these criminals behind bars longer to protect the public. This is a continuation of those efforts to give law enforcement authorities stronger tools to curb violence in Tennessee.

Gangs & RICO

A separate bill attacking gang violence was approved this year that expands the definition of racketeering activity under the state’s RICO statue to include the commission of or attempt to commit, solicit or coerce a criminal gang offense. RICO refers to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. House Bill 2868 makes it easier to prosecute gang members and increases penalties for gang-related activities to a Class B felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years. The bill specifies that, for the purposes of the above offense, a person commits “racketeering activity” who commits, attempts or conspires to commit, or solicits or coerces another person to commit a criminal gang offense.

Under the state’s RICO law, law enforcement authorities would have to show that those arrested are gang members through previous convictions and that they have profited by their affiliation and illegal activity.

Felons with firearms

Legislation was enacted prescribing tougher sentences for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions. Before, illegal possession of a firearm for convicted violent felons was punishable as a Class E felony which carries a one to six-year sentence and up to $3,000 in fines. The new law increases the offense to a Class C felony which is punishable by a 3 to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose crime involved the use of force, violence or a deadly weapon. The punishment is a Class D felony, under the new law, for felons whose conviction involved a drug offense.

Over the last 10 years, approximately 19,000 people arrested in Memphis possessed a firearm when charged. About 30 percent of those arrested had been previously convicted. The scope of the problem has increased due to a rise in drug trafficking and gang activity. The proliferation of crimes involving firearms pointed to the need for a “more effective hammer” to deter felons from going armed.