Bruning joins anti-gang push

Midlands News Service
Updated 01/07/2009 09:59:12 AM EST

LINCOLN — Ways to reduce gang violence will get a full hearing this year in the Nebraska Legislature.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning on Tuesday joined Omaha mayoral candidates and at least one state senator in unveiling a proposal to combat gang-related crimes.

Bruning’s plan would increase prison sentences for a number of gun-related offenses and create the specific crimes of “unlawful gang recruitment” and “application of graffiti.”

“Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have some sort of gang legislation,” Bruning said at a morning press conference. “It’s time for Nebraska to do something.”

State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha has already unveiled a package of proposals that would lengthen prison terms for gangrelated crimes, as well as focus on counseling and other measures to prevent the cycle of gang violence.

At least 11 of the 44 homicides in Omaha last year were linked to gangs. Fighting gang violence and other crimes has emerged as a leading issue in the mayor’s race. All three major candidates say they’ll have plans.

“We’re going to get a chance to discuss all of these ideas,” said State Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha, who will introduce Bruning’s anti-gang package in the Legislature. “I think we’ll come up with something pretty solid.”

The attorney general said his focus is to keep the worst offenders, who commit most of the crimes, off the streets longer.

“This is to take the Ruckers off the street,” Bruning said, referring to Albert Rucker, who was on probation when he shot and killed Omaha Police Officer Jason Tye Pratt in 2003.

The state doesn’t have the money this year for costly counseling programs, as proposed by Ashford, Bruning said.

Along with gang violence, Bruning’s 2009 crime-fighting proposals include:

A child protection bill, which would make it illegal for registered sex offenders to use social-networking Internet sites. Some probation sentences already include such a ban, but this would put it in state law. Bruning posted a conversation between a State Patrol investigator posing as a 14-year-old girl and a convicted sex offender. The conversation escalated from idle conversation to “u like to do sex” and more descriptive sex acts. “This is the kind of disgusting stuff we deal with every day,” Bruning said.

Incorporating dating-violence education into the health curriculum for sixth through 12th grades to combat domestic violence. Rhode Island has a similar measure, which Bruning said has a broader purpose of stopping domestic violence.

“Modernizing” state statutes concerning white-collar crimes. It would create the crime of identity theft. About 800 Nebraskans were victimized by identity theft last year, Bruning said.

The measure also would let prosecutors “aggregate” the small financial losses of several crimes into a felony offense. This proposal addresses a problem uncovered last year when the Attorney General’s Office was unable to seek harsh penalties against a northeast Nebraska gas station owner who sold lowercost ethanol as regular unleaded, which typically fetches a higher price.

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