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Northeast Arkansas law enforcement agencies and prosecuting attorneys are joining forces to tackle violent crimes through a shared database of gang affiliates and their relations.

The 2nd Judicial District Organized Criminal Activity Task Force will allow officers and attorneys to access the Jonesboro Police Department database. Eventually, the group hopes to have a database that all members can use, said Scott Ellington, prosecuting attorney for the 2nd Judicial District, which covers six counties in northeast Arkansas.

"We don't want to chase them from one place to the other," Ellington said. "We want to remove them and put them in prison when they can't commit crimes."

With the shared data, Ellington said, officials will be able to keep up with the location of gang members and those who are affiliated with gang members. This will allow officers to more easily make arrests and gather information for the prosecuting attorneys' cases.

"We know that criminals nowadays have vehicles and they move back and forth between various cities, and sometimes their crime goes with them," Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said.

If attorneys have proof of gang activity, under Arkansas Code 5-74-104 they can levy higher charges against gang members. Ellington said attorneys will seek federal charges, which carry longer sentences, when appropriate.

The law allows attorneys to further prosecute offenses if those offenses are part of a series of two or more previous crimes that are with two or more people affiliated with gangs. This law can boost the offender's felony up to two classifications.

Ellington said the law can allow gang members who did not kill anyone at the scenes of shootings to be prosecuted with murder charges.

Gang databases have proved controversial across the nation.

"One of the primary issues of concern with gang databases is that they too often provide no foundation or support for the contentions and representations that the intelligence they collect is reliably indicative of gang activity," Thomas Nolan, a criminal justice expert, said in an article for the American Constitution Society.

Ellington said task force officials will use discernment in utilizing the database and prosecuting people based on its information.

"We can't just go willy-nilly in and start charging folks that don't meet the requirement of the statute," he said.

He said officials will try to protect people's civil liberties.

"Folks have a right to assemble, but they don't have a right to go shoot up places and kill other folks," Ellington said.

Law enforcement agencies began exploring the possibility of a task force after a fatal shooting May 14, 2017, at a party venue in downtown Jonesboro. The shooting involved at least two gangs, and "somebody pulled a gun and started shooting fairly indiscriminately," Ellington said.

Prosecutors began collecting information about which people at the gathering were involved with gangs, and they discovered the Jonesboro Police Department already had a database that contained such information. Ellington said officials began exploring the idea of a task force to share this kind of information.

"It's just taking a more aggressive approach in dealing with people who are violent repeat offenders and just trying to get them off the streets for our region," Elliott said.

State Desk on 01/12/2019

Print Headline: Agencies in Arkansas to share database on gangs; task force planned in state's northeast

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