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The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator
Statement of Senator Dianne Feinstein
I thank Chairman Biden for holding this hearing on an issue that is at the core of this subcommittee's jurisdiction - keeping Americans safe from violent crime.
Unfortunately, the news is not good. Last June, the FBI reported that its statistics in 2005 showed a 2.3% one-year rise in violent crime - our worst violent crime surge in almost 15 years. Putting this number in human terms, the International Association of Chiefs of Police estimates that the FBI's 2005 statistics meant that 31,479 more Americans were murdered, raped, assaulted or otherwise subject to violent crime in 2005 than in 2004.
We do not yet have FBI statistics for the rest of 2006. But a recent Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey of jurisdictions estimated that, since January 1, 2005, homicides, robberies and assaults with a firearm have all gone up at least 10%. At least 2/3 of jurisdictions reported a rise in each of these categories, with violent crime up by 20-30% in many cities. In just two years.
No wonder several witnesses will be talking today about a crisis when it comes to violent crime in America.
Gang Violence as the Cause
When the FBI announced its 2005 figures last June, the Washington Post noted how criminal justice experts identified "an influx of gangs into medium-sized cities" as a big reason for this increase. According to the Los Angeles Times, Houston police attributed their 2005 increase to gang members who evacuated New Orleans after Katrina.
When its 2006 figures were announced, criminologists like James Alan Fox, who will testify here today, were quoted in the Washington Post as saying that "[w]e have many high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback." And the LA Times noted how "[e]xperts said the crime upsurge reflected an increase in gang violence, particularly in midsized cities." Cities like Houston, which experienced a massive 28% increase in violent crime.
And even in places with a reduction in violent crime - such as Los Angeles, which has moved into the ranks of the safest cities in the U.S. - Mayor Villairaigosa described gang violence as the "glaring exception." In 2006, gang crime was up by 15% in L.A. - up more than 40% in San Fernando Valley. 57% of Los Angeles' 478 homicides for 2006 were attributed to gangs. And 86% of those murder victims were African-American or Latino.
Every year, we see more shocking and horrifying tales of gang murders of beautiful children, like 14-year old Cheryl Green, killed because of the color of her skin, 9-year old Charupa Wongwisetsiri, killed when a drive-by bullet penetrated her kitchen wall, and Kaitlin Avila, a 3-year old child intentionally shot in the chest by a gang member who killed her father and didn't want a witness.
These criminal street gangs engage in drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, gun trafficking, and murder. They destroy neighborhoods, cripple families and kill innocent people. Our national gang problem is immense and growing, and it is not going away. Our cities and states need our help - a long-term federal commitment to combat gang violence.
The Feinstein-Hatch Gang Bill
But it's also tough on the root causes of crime - identifying successful community programs, and then investing significant resources in schools and civic and religious organizations to prevent our young people from ever joining gangs in the first place.