If you’ve noticed a decline over the last few years in the number of stories in this newspaper about violent gang-related crimes, give yourself a gold star. The Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office confirms that the number of such crimes has been on the decline.
That’s good news for the western Treasure Valley, which had gained a sort of stigma over the years as being a dangerous place where bullets fly frequently and gangs rule.
Of course, those of us who live here know that perception was off base. Even when violent gang-related crimes made headlines on a regular basis, most of that was gang-on-gang activity. Other than property crimes such as graffiti, most gang-related crime — especially the violent kind — is gang-on-gang. And most of us have had no reason to fear going for a walk in our neighborhoods or worrying about our safety.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor’s office and local law enforcement agencies have put an added emphasis on gangs and street crimes and has had the help of a federally-funded position it shares with Treasure Valley partners. That big push has resulted in the indictments of more than 50 gang members this year alone — many of them the “top brass” in those gangs, according to Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor. Many of those arrests came in two big busts early this past winter.
Caldwell’s community policing program is credited for having a strong impact on gang activity.
Gang membership and recruitment is still an issue here. According to the Nampa Police Department, there are 583 documented gang members in the city, a number that has been increasing. But once a gang member is on the list, he or she remains there for a minimum of five years — not counting any time spent in incarceration. Therefore, it’s difficult to make short-term evaluations on gang membership trends based entirely on the official number of documented gang members.
In an effort to curtail gang recruitment, the Idaho Legislature in 2006 passed the Idaho Criminal Gang Enforcement Act, sponsored by Sens. John McGee of Caldwell and Patti Anne Lodge of Huston. That stiffened the penalties for gang-related felonies and outlawed gang recruiting.
On July 1, a new law will take effect that will add more crimes under the umbrella of the gang-enforcement statute and increase prison time for gang-related offenses.
There’s no doubt that area lawmakers and law enforcement have made a diligent effort to do what they can to reduce gang activity and make this a safer place to live. The noticeable lack in recent drive-by shootings and other violent gang crime certainly indicates we’re headed in the right direction.