New Illinois Gang Law: To assist in Prosecutions

Empowering witnesses of gang crimes to break the unwritten code of silence and help restore order to their community.

That’s the intent behind the Gang Crime Witness Protection Act, a bill signed earlier this month by Gov. Pat Quinn.

House Bill 1139, sponsored by Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Westchester, and Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, enables the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to establish a Gang Crime Witness Protection Program to assist those who are actively aiding in the prosecution of gang crimes.

The program will reimburse counties for the assistance they provide victims and witnesses, including temporary living costs and moving expenses.

“This legislation will empower people who might be afraid to testify against members of organized crime regimes,” Van Pelt said in a news release. “If witnesses are willing to tell the authorities everything  they know about criminal activity, they can help stop the violence that is rampant in our communities.”

Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite-Ross said the safety of witnesses is a priority in prosecuting gang crimes.

“For all of our witnesses, we try to provide guidance and safety with the limited resources that we have,” she said. “Hopefully, this will enhance our efforts to do that.”

Boone County State’s Attorney Michelle Courier has made a reputation for herself among law enforcement and area gangs for invoking a seldom-used state law, the Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act. The 1993 law prohibits gang members from associating with each other in public and allows police to arrest them when they do.

Courier said the newly signed Gang Crime Witness Protection Act will be another useful tool for her office to prosecute gangs.

“It serves a legitimate purpose to protect individuals,” she said. “In the right case I’d be willing to use it.”

The Gang Witness Protection Act was one of two bills aimed at curbing gang violence and signed by Quinn this month.

The governor also put his signature on House Bill 2768, which requires school principals and assistant principals to report any illegal weapons use or possession, or any illegal gang activity, to law enforcement officials. The bill, sponsored by Welch and Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, also requires courts and law enforcement officials to notify school principals when one of their students is detained for illegal gang activity. The law takes effect Jan. 1.


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