Okla. Law Enforcement Officials Mull Gang Woes

Article excerpt

Among the post-9/11 concerns was the lack of communication among law enforcement agencies. Six years later, that issue appears to have not changed.

John Richter, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, told members of a gang enforcement panel on Monday that jurisdiction and communication were significant issues when it came to law enforcement units throughout the country.

He said the lack of discussion and coordination between law enforcement entities would probably surprise most people.

"I think the public thinks we do that," Richter said of coordination between agencies. "The dirty little secret in law enforcement is we do it some of the time."

Richter said the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Gang Task Force was an example of a coordination of efforts that worked well.

He said this group included officials from ATF, FBI, Oklahoma City Police Department, DEA, Midwest City Police Department, Oklahoma County district attorney's office, U.S. marshall's office, and others.

This type of coordination is a key to gang-combating efforts, Richter said. He said understanding jurisdictions, common definitions, and methodology were instrumental when federal officials are working with local law enforcement on gang issues. One example he gave had to do with how "known to be affiliated" was defined by a particular agency. He said understanding just what this actually meant in the grand scheme was very important.

"That type of information is incredibly valuable," Richter said.

Also discussed by Richter were some of the tools used by federal prosecutors when it came to the gang problems. He said conspiracy charges were a major help in being able to arrest people for crimes they weren't necessarily involved in at the hands-on level.

Richter said states didn't use conspiracy as often, in part because it required judges to be willing to understand the concepts of conspiracy. He said it was something opposed by defense counsel and defendants as well.

"That just doesn't seem fair to them," Richter said.

Using grand juries as an investigation tool was also encouraged. Richter said grand juries required the subject to fall under cross- examination before going on trial, which locked in the testimony.

Richter also talked about the use of the Witness Protection Program as a useful tool that states should consider when having problems with obstruction of justice and intimidation. He said it wasn't uncommon for incarcerated gang members to use outside gang members to attempt to intimidate relatives or friends of witnesses through drive-by shootings. …