Patrick youth violence plan features new gun crimes, more outreach

Pressing forward on one of his stated goals for a second term, Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday rolled out a proposal to add three new gun crimes and embark on a coordinated outreach effort with communities to curb youth violence in cities.

He also repeated his call on the private sector to increase internship and job opportunities for urban youth, and to partner with government to give teenagers a taste of another life outside of street crime and violence.

Patrick, joined by lawmakers, mayors and community activists in a Mattapan gymnasium, said he would seek $10 million from the Legislature for a competitive grant program that will target young men aged 14 to 24 in a select number of high-violence cities to provide work, education opportunities, supervision and support services.

The governor also intends to file two new pieces of legislation, including a bill that would stiffen penalties for gun crimes by creating a felon-in-possession law and the new crimes of assault and battery with a firearm and assault with a firearm.

The second bill, based on similar legislation supported by Attorney General Martha Coakley, would expand the definition of organized crime to include street gangs and drug trafficking networks, and, in doing so, broaden the scope of the state’s wiretapping laws.

“We’re losing too many children to gun and gang-related violence. The life of any young person is not expendable. We have to act,” Patrick said, speaking at the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan.

Asked about funding for youth jobs this summer, Patrick said he was looking at ways to add money for teen job opportunities, but said government can’t do it alone. During a rally earlier this year for youth jobs at the State House, Patrick called out private employers to help create opportunities for youth this summer.

“I think the other point is this. We have got to stop this focus on what government is doing and start talking about what we are all doing, and that is the reason why I continue to put the point out to the private sector, to private industry, to make opportunities, paid or unpaid, for young people to come in and see and be exposed to the discipline of work and the ability to imagine a different and better way for themselves,” Patrick said.

Coakley, who joined Patrick at the event along with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Police Commissioner Edward Davis, District Attorneys Daniel Conley and Samuel Sutter and lawmakers and community leaders from Springfield to Boston, praised Patrick for seeking to update the state’s wire-intercept laws for the first time since 1968 to keep pace with changing technology.

“It’s high time we give police, law enforcement, and the district attorneys the tools they need,” Coakley said. Coakley said the law can be updated while still providing for judicial oversight and a respect for privacy.

Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Marilyn Anderson Chase is expected to lead the administration’s efforts to work with individual cities and towns on strategies and programs to fight youth violence. The administration has not yet identified which communities will be eligible for the funding, but Chase said they plan to rely on non-partisan experts to help identify those cities in most need.

Patrick said he anticipates the $10 million will be put into a competitive grant fund, and said the partnerships with communities will include a review of programs currently in place.

“We will fund what works, and defund what does not, and we will together develop measures of our progress and success,” Patrick said.

The announcement of the governor’s youth violence strategy comes as advocates are pressing lawmakers not to cut back on summer jobs programs for teenagers as they seek to balance the budget in the face of diminished federal assistance.

The House, during its budget debate a week ago, added money for youth jobs, allocating $6 million in its final fiscal 2012 budget proposal, but still came up 25 percent short of fiscal 2011 funding levels.

The House also approved a $1 million increase over fiscal 2011 for the Shannon Anti-Gang Violence grant program, and increased funding for the Department of Public Health's Youth at Risk program by $200,000.

Lew Finfer, executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network and an organizer with the YouthJobs Coalition, said the loss of federal stimulus dollars will mean 2,000 fewer youth jobs this summer. Finfer said advocates are hoping the Senate adds another $2 million to its budget to preserve 1,350 jobs.

“We are in a crisis for summer jobs,” said Finfer, who credited Patrick’s plan to acknowledging that local communities must have input into the design of outreach programs in their neighborhoods.

With summer fast approaching, Patrick said he was looking into opportunities to provide additional funding for summer jobs ahead of the budget process to help address the loss of federal stimulus dollars that advocates said helped pay for 2,000 summer jobs last year.

“Last summer, perhaps again this summer, we advanced funds in the budget intended for use later in the year so that we could do as much as possible in term of jobs,” Patrick said after the event.

Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, also credited the plan with providing the tools needed to discourage youth violence and gun crimes on the criminal justice side of the aisle.

“It’s far too easy for young adults to get a gun without any lawful reason to do so,” Sutter said.

Sutter said prosecutors are too often faced with the “Hobbesian choice” of charging a defendant accused of a shooting crime with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon – which carries 3 ½ to 5 years in prison – or the harder to prove assault and battery with intent to murder.

The new crimes created by the governor’s legislation will give police and prosecutors new options to charge defendants with more serious gun crimes. Sutter compared the charges to tough drunken driving laws that he credited with reducing alcohol-related crashes from 411 in 1984 to 108 in 2009.

“Imagine if we could do that with youth violence and with gun violence,” Sutter said.

Both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray issued general statements of support for Patrick’s approach.

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