Statement from Senator Bo Watson regarding use of the Community Safety Act to combat gang violence

NASHVILLE — Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), sponsor of the Community Safety Act, made the following statement regarding use of the 2014 law by the District Attorney’s Office:

“I am very pleased to hear that the District Attorney’s office will be using provisions of the Community Safety Act in combatting gang violence. Gang violence cannot be tolerated, or it will inevitably increase in frequency and level as we have experienced in Chattanooga.

“This law gives courts the authority to restrict gang activity in certain geographic locations, including our public parks. It also tightens standards in order to allow for more effective pursuit of a court injunction against a gang or its members. Basically, it gives law enforcement another tool in the toolbox for reducing gang violence and many crimes associated with it. This law has been proven to curb gang-related crimes in Memphis and Nashville and we believe it will make a difference in Chattanooga in making our streets safer.”

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About the Community Safety Act – The law clarifies that a petition for the abatement of gang-related conduct may be filed against a criminal gangs itself to which the members belong. It gives the court the authority to restrict gang activity in certain geographic locations, including public parks.

Gang-related offenses include crimes that Tennessee communities combat every day, such as robbery, carjacking, and drug possession with intent to sell, among other more violent offenses. The Community Safety Act builds on a law passed in 2013 that changed the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses to make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence. Other laws enacted since 2011 create tougher sentences for certain types of crimes committed by three or more acting in concert and tougher sentences for convicted felons who persist in illegally possessing guns.

The Community Safety Act requires gang-related conduct to be proven beyond clear and convincing evidence, rather than preponderance. It includes an opt-out provision that allows a gang member to be dismissed from an injunction if he or she renounced membership. The measure also makes it a Class C misdemeanor for a gang member to knowingly violate any temporary or permanent injunction.

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