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Sen. Hershman: Committee Approves Bill to Fight School Gang Activity

STATEHOUSE (Feb. 13, 2013) — The Senate Committee on Education and Career Development today voted 11-1 in support of State Sen. Brandt Hershman’s (R-Buck Creek) comprehensive plan to help law enforcement officers and educators collaborate on keeping gang activity out of Indiana schools.

Senate Bill 352 would allow the Indiana Safe Schools Fund to be used to provide educational outreach and training to school personnel concerning the identification and prevention of criminal gang activity. Hershman said impetus for SB 352 came from discussions he’s had with Tippecanoe County officials — including Prosecutor Pat Harrington and Project Safe Neighborhoods Anti-Gang Initiatives Director Kathryn Redd, who both see a need for educational policy regarding gang activity in Indiana schools.

“It may be a surprise to some that gangs are intruding into areas where they were previously not seen, most notably Indiana’s rural communities,” Hershman said. “School officials and prosecutors say this is a direct result of non-traditional means of recruitment, including membership recruitment through social media.”

A 2011 report by the National Gang Intelligence Center notes that gangs are “migrating from urban areas to suburban and rural communities to recruit new members, expand their drug distribution territories, form new alliances and collaborate with rival gangs and criminal organizations for profit and influence.”

To help fight this trend, SB 352 would also require school boards — in cooperation with parents, employees and local law enforcement — to put in place anti-gang policies and awareness programs. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) would develop model materials.

“Not having an educational component on how to deal with gang members is a gamble that we should not take,” Hershman said. “This legislation is for the betterment of our kids, our schools and our communities.”

Representatives from IDOE and the Indiana School Board Association testified in support of Hershman’s bill during a committee hearing.

Other states have enacted similar legislation. Maryland passed “The Safe Schools Act of 2010,” also requiring its Department of Education to develop a model gang policy for schools.

In 2011, Hershman was a driving force in securing funding for a pilot program launched in Tippecanoe County aimed at helping law enforcement identify and police criminal gang activity across Indiana.

SB 352 now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.