Federal crackdown on gangs in Kansas City and nationwide
Prosecutors call gangs "public safety threat"
Associated Press , Posted by Caroline Rooney
11:28 AM, Feb 13, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Missouri - In a city where there are twice as many identified gang
members as there are police officers, the announcement this week
that seven Kansas City residents are facing federal gang-related
charges might not seem like much.
But prosecutors in Kansas City and Washington, D.C., say
Wednesday's charges are just the start of a nationwide gang
crackdown in which federal prosecutors are working with local
jurisdictions to tackle a growing public safety threat.
"This is a major initiative," said Beth Phillips, U.S. attorney
for the Western District of Missouri. "We are focusing significant
efforts and resources to address gang violence in the community. I
fully expect additional gang-related charges in the future."
On Wednesday, Phillips announced charges against seven alleged
members of Kansas City's Click Clack Gang while federal prosecutors
in four other districts were hailing charges against 34 other gang
members. The Department of Justice said those numbers bring the
total to 112 people who were either arrested, charged, pleaded
guilty or sentenced since Feb. 1 for gang-related crimes.
"Although these cases are in different parts of the country,
they illustrate the common threats gang members pose to our
communities," said Kevin Perkins, a member of the FBI's Criminal
Investigation Division. "The FBI will use our task forces,
undercover operations, and enhanced surveillance techniques to
dismantle gangs to restore order to neighborhoods they
Gang activity has been especially troublesome in places like
Kansas City, where there are only about 1,400 sworn officers and
3,000 identified gang members.
Sgt. Jay Pruetting, supervisor of the Kansas City Police
Department's six-member gang squad, said that while Wednesday's
announcement took only seven people off the streets, his unit is
working with federal prosecutors on several other cases and he
anticipates indictments against other gang members to be coming
"In our city, you have a lot of gang members loosely associated,
and not real territorial," he said. "You will see club shootings
where you get a group of kids together who have no idea who
everyone is representing. Then a song starts playing, gang signs
are flashed and someone starts shooting. Sometimes innocent people
who are at a party to have fun are hit by gunfire."
Pruetting said there are 35 to 40 "actively violent" gangs in
Kansas City. In addition to his unit, other squads that focus on
things like illegal firearms and career criminals also keep tabs on
"If it weren't for the other squads, I would be in a lot of
trouble," he said.
Pruetting said a growing Hispanic population has led to a rise
in the number of Hispanic gangs, identified by the Justice
Department as the primary organizational threat in the Midwest High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area region.
"Drug-related violent crime poses a problem in the Kansas City
metropolitan area," the National Drug Intelligence Center said in
its 2010 HIDTA report. "African American and Hispanic street gangs
are the primary perpetrators, and both rely on illicit drug
distribution for revenue. African American gangs are dominant;
while many of these gangs claim Bloods or Crips affiliation, they
are local and tend to be loosely organized and based on
neighborhood affiliations. Hispanic street gangs are increasing in
number and are more organized and tied to nationally affiliated
Pruetting also attributed the growing gang presence to a
breakdown in the family structure and lack of responsibility on the
part of parents.
"A lot of it for a lot of kids has to do with how they're
raised," he said. "If kids are taught manners and get a good
education, 99 percent of the time they aren't going to be in a
gang. That includes all cultures: white, black, Hispanic. It just
comes down to how you were raised."
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice
Department's Criminal Division, said the federal initiative gives
local jurisdictions much-needed assistance on the gang front.
Prosecutors said there's additional deterrent to gang members
when they know they will be tried in federal court, where sentences
carry no chance for parole, tend to be stiffer than state statutes
and include forfeiture provisions under which the government can
seize property obtained through or used in the commission of a
"This approach is designed to send a strong message, and also to
ensure that every possible sentencing enhancement tool we have is
being used to address gang activity in the Kansas City area,"
Phillips said. "It's our hope that increased penalties will make a
difference. What everyone cares about is their pocketbook, and
we're trying to hit them where it hurts -- not just in increased
Breuer said federal involvement in gang investigations also
means gang members can be prosecuted using federal racketeering
laws. Under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,
the government can go after entire gangs rather than just
Two years ago the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas prosecuted 28
members of the Crips gang under RICO, resulting in long prison
terms for several members without the chance of parole.
"I'm not saying we're going to take down the gangs in any one
place," Breuer said. "I'm not saying 3,000 overnight will be going
to jail. But they're going to know they're in the sights of the
federal government, they're going to know we're going after them
and their leadership, and they're going to know we're not going