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City Uses Strict State Law Against Gangs

October 27, 1998|S.J. CAHN

One of America's safest cities is taking advantage of a 10-year-old state law to ensure local gang members get even more time behind bars when convicted.

Simi Valley has the only police department in the county to help convict a gang member under the most stringent portion of the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, or STEP, according to authorities.

STEP provides for prison sentences of up to three years longer than prescribed by law for gang-related offense. For example, without the added time, crimes such as assault or robbery can result in sentences of less than a year, terms that are served in the Ventura County Jail.

To convict someone under STEP, prosecutors must prove the defendant is a member of an active street gang. For less serious crimes, prosecutors have to prove only that the defendant was committing the crime on behalf of a gang--for instance, robbery to get money for the gang.

"I'd say it's labor-intensive," said Officer Darin Mueller, with the Simi Valley Police's anti-gang unit.

But the effort has paid off in the successful prosecution of 10 Simi Valley gang members in the past six months.

STEP also makes possession of a concealed or loaded firearm by a gang member a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

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