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Knapik co-sponsors bill that discourages gang activity

WESTFIELD The Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a sweeping anti-gang initiative that includes a statewide witness protection program and an $11 million grant program to fund collaborative regional anti-gang efforts, focusing both on increased law enforcement activities as well as youth violence prevention programs.

Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) is a leading co-sponsor of the legislation written by Senator Jarrett. T. Barrios (D-Cambridge), chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Senate Bill 2242 includes provisions to increase penalties for using grand jury transcripts to intimidate a witness and addresses the problem of "community guns" a phrase used to describe when gang members pass around a loaded gun to commit crimes.

"Today we sent the message that gang violence will not be welcome in the cities and towns of Massachusetts," Knapik said. "This bill will discourage gang activity, establish new protections for witnesses who are being intimidated by gangs, and boost support for the kinds of programs that give at-risk youth an alternative to joining the gang lifestyle."

Another initiative allotting $750,000 to run a witness protection program would be managed by a seven-member board and would provide armed protection or escort services, surveillance and physical relocation.

The community anti-gang grant program, which will be named after former policeman and Senator Charlie Shannon, was developed in partnership with the Mayors Coalition.

The state-wide competitive grant program would fund regional, comprehensive, and multi-disciplinary approaches to combating gangs and youth violence. The grant program includes a provision requiring communities to submit a "comprehensive plan" describing how anti-gang efforts will encourage coordination between law enforcement, community-based groups and elected officials. To promote information sharing among communities, the program would also encourage grant recipients to report "best practices" implemented as a result of the program.

"Hampden County has witnessed a steady increase in its violent crime and murder rate. This spike can be attributed to increasing gang activity in our cities. The competitive grant program will the necessary support for our law enforcement officers and community leaders in the Holyoke and Springfield areas," Knapik said.

Senate Bill 2242 will now move to the House of Representatives for their consideration.