Strike force keeps gangs at bay

Last year the agency kept tabs on 9,000 gang members.

With recent gang murders in St. Paul and Brooklyn Park, Minn., it is an odd time to be eliminating the Minnesota Gang Strike Force. But that’s exactly what Gov. Tim Pawlenty is proposing. Created in 1997 to combat gang activity throughout the state, the agency has seen its funding steadily reduced over the last seven years. Now the governor and the state’s Department of Public Safety are asking that the strike force be folded into the Minnesota Drug Task Forces, a network of regional anti-drug units. Pawlenty would be wise to leave the strike force where it is and give it the funding it needs.

The strike force has been critical to providing authorities with the intelligence to effectively track thousands of active gang members across the state. Last year the agency kept tabs on 9,000 gang members, leading to the arrests of nearly 900 people and the seizure of more than 150 guns.

Strike force members understand that monitoring gang activity is an extensive undertaking that requires a sustained street-level presence throughout the community. The strike force has been successful in developing the intelligence-gathering capability to track gangs such as the Shotgun Crips and the Mickey Cobras and the rivalries between them. The strike force’s strength lies in its exclusive focus on gang-related crime. The proposed merger would dilute that focus by broadening the strike force’s efforts to include statewide drug operations and related violent crimes.

Successive governors and legislatures have treated the strike force more like wasteful spending than the wise investment it is. Since its creation, the agency’s funding has fallen from a high of $7 million to a paltry $300,000 this year. Current staffing is barely half its original level.

Pawlenty has asked the Legislature for $3 million in new funds to finance merging the strike force with the drug task forces. But the strike force should remain an independent body and be given the funding it needs. It is a sad day when previously peaceful communities find themselves host to rival gangs and deadly shootouts. Eliminating the Minnesota Gang Strike Force would bring that day closer for many Minnesota communities.