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Bill to criminalize gang activities being watched in Reading

By Kimberly Davidow, Reporter
Published On: Oct 07 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 08 2012 05:39:01 PM CDT

A bill that aims to crack down on gang violence is making its way to the Pennsylvania House.

READING, Pa. -

A bill that aims to crack down on gang violence in Pennsylvania is making its way to the state House. Officials said it couldn't come at a better time for Reading.

Youth gang violence is active in the city. Mayor Vaughn Spencer said things have changed greatly since he was a student in the Reading School District.

"It wasn't anything where there was actual violence occurring behind it. A lot of times, it had to do with bragging rights," said Spencer.

Those times, said Reading police Chief Bill Heim, are long gone. Now, Heim said "bragging rights" have resulted in students being cited for their violent behavior and police officers being hurt trying to stop the violence.

"Some of the issues that are causing the violence, conflicts between groups, conflicts between individuals, are occurring both in the community and in the schools," said Heim.

In September, fights broke out at Reading Intermediate High School, also known as the Citadel, where officials believe these fights were associated with student gang activities of north side students versus south side students. Heim said 'north-side' and 'south-side' refer to the area of the city where students live.

"We reassigned two officers to be in the school premises. We've also been marshaling a number of resources, police officers, probation officers," said Heim.

Putting an end to such violence has been on the state's radar, too. Last year, House Bill 1121 was introduced. This bill would make recruiting gang members a crime. Last week, the bill passed 45-3 in the Senate.

"In order to break the cycle of violence, keep kids on a right path, we've got to stop the influence of existing gang members from recruiting students," said Heim.

The bill will now make its way to the state House floor.