New state laws target gang activity

CARSON CITY — During the 2009 legislative session, Nevada lawmakers cracked down on gang members trying to recruit minors and required school districts to establish policies barring criminal gang activity on school grounds.

Senate Bill 142, approved by legislators and signed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, criminalizes recruitment of minors into gangs, making it a low-level felony. Convicted offenders could be imprisoned for one to four years and face fines of up to $5,000.

The measure states that adult gang members who use or threaten violence against minors to coerce them to join, remain in or rejoin a gang can be convicted under the new law, set to take effect Oct. 1.

Frank Adams of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association said SB142 fills a gap in state law and will help reduce gang member numbers in the long run. He added that adult gang members who damage or threaten to damage property of minors and those they know also can be punished.

“This gives us a tool against old guys from recruiting young kids by forcing or threatening them to become part of a criminal gang,” Adams said. “So far, it’s perpetual, and now we are into generations of kids whose fathers got them into it. This gives kids a chance to do something else.”

Mark Wier of Mesquite, president of the Virgin Valley Community Education Advisory Board, came up with the idea for SB142 after gang activity concerns were expressed by parents and school officials. He said 30 states have enacted a similar law.

“This goes to the heart of it,” Wier said. “If we are able to take these gang members who go out and actively recruit the kids and get them away from the kids, the kids have better chances of staying away or getting out of gangs.”

The law also helps to deal with fears youngsters feel when pressured to join gangs.

Looking to the 2011 Legislature, Wier would like to come back and tell lawmakers to approve harsher punishments.

Legislators also passed and Gibbons signed AB154, which mandates that school districts establish policies barring criminal gang activity on school grounds.

School district trustees already can establish such policies, but a mandate is needed because no part of Nevada is immune to gang activity, said Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored the bill.

“Sometimes school districts get a little complacent,” said Munford, who taught in Las Vegas-area schools for 36 years.

It’s up to school boards to decide what policies against gang activity should be set, but Munford said the policies “should be of some substance and credibility, not things just like guest speakers.”

Policies such as banning clothing affiliated with gangs are in place, but Munford said policies need to be expanded more and that incoming teachers need to be educated about how to prevent gang activity from taking place.

“We can’t go to sleep on this,” Munford said.

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