Police Chief concerned with new anti-gang law

Lawton_Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith is worried that Oklahoma's new anti-gang law won't do Lawton much good.

The bill was signed by Governor Henry Monday. It should be good news to all cities with gang problems, but Smith is concerned big city politicians will ignore southwest Oklahoma even though the measure was co-authored by Lawton Representative T.W. Shannon. The new law sets up a task force to review current gang fighting strategies, and recommend new ones.

Chief Smith is concerned that none of the 13 committee members are police chiefs.

Even though the committee will include six county sheriffs -- he says they work in the county, and don't know the problems happening within the city limits of rural Oklahoma.

Representative Shannon says that's a valid concern, and it's something the legislature will address. But he thinks his bill is a good start.

"The problems we've had recently, the surge and increase in gang violence around the city, it's important, we thought, at the state level we start taking a look at this wholisticly," Shannon said, "and not just address it from one city, but look at what the state is doing on its entirety and see what we can do to start curbing some of the violence now."

The 13 member statewide anti-gang task force includes six sheriffs, based on county population, along with Lt. Governor Jari Askins and a handful of political appointees. "It's too early to tell how it's going to help the cities because it's basically it's got all county representatives or state representative involved," Smith said. "They failed to allow any police, any police chiefs or any police officers in the committee."

Smith says his department's local anti-gang task force has significantly reduced the amount of gang violence here in Lawton, and therefore the committee should be including them in the statewide fight.

Rep. Shannon agreed local police need a say in how the state battles gangs.

"They are the front lines on this war on gang violence," Shannon said. "So as we look forward and move forward, there are other pieces of legislation that are still pending too that we hope will get signed."

Chief Smith says he would gladly sit on the committee himself, but he would take his Deputy Chief of Police with him -- because he knows the gang problems in the city, and has dealt with them firsthand.