LA Daily News: Court ban on gangs effective, divisive
By Beth Barrett, Staff Writer Article Last Updated: 01/12/2008 09:46:19 PM PST
Since 1993, when gang injunctions were first used against the Blythe Street gang in Panorama City, the crime-fighting tool has been expanded to cover about 50 gangs in Los Angeles.
Thirty-three permanent injunctions are in effect, with three pending. And with injunctions leading to about 400 misdemeanor cases in 2006, prosecutors and police say the moves have helped tear apart the fabric of gang life from Watts to the San Fernando Valley.
Law enforcement officials estimate between 10,000 and 11,000 of the city’s approximately 39,000 gang members live in zones covered by injunctions.
Prosecutors and Los Angeles Police Department gang experts evaluate gangs’ criminal activity, then file a civil lawsuit charging a specific gang poses a public nuisance. A court hearing is set to determine whether to issue an injunction. After an injunction is issued, any gang member notified of the injunction by LAPD officers is subject to its restrictions – and prosecution for any violations.
Restrictions include everything from associating with other known gang members in public and confronting or intimidating a victim or witness to gang activity to possessing a weapon in public and violating a court-defined curfew.
Charges for violations typically include contempt of court, with multiple other charges also possible. The District Attorney’s Office handles felony cases.
Bruce Riordan – director of anti-gang operations in City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office and a former assistant U.S. attorney – said there is mounting evidence that injunctions are contributing to making communities safer.
Riordan said the injunctions strike at the organizational nature of gangs and splinter bases of operation with anti-association provisions. “Now, a guy can’t control the streets; gangs can’t hang out at parks,” Riordan said.
And since every injunction is tailored for the particular gangs, it strikes at their enterprises as well – such as drugs and weapons.
The Grape Street Crips – a gang centered in the Jordan Downs housing project and surrounding streets – was placed under an injunction in May 2005.
The move came after a Superior Court judge upheld the city’s complaint that gang members were selling cocaine, marijuana and PCP; using drug hawkers to make sales; and avoiding police by using cell phones, walkie-talkies, yelling or whistling.
“I’ve seen a real sea change,” said Marty Vranicar, who left after 13 years as supervisor of the city attorney’s anti-gang unit and joined the California District Attorneys Association. “People accept they have brought some measure of peace and security.”
LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck called injunctions a key in modifying gang behavior. While he said it’s difficult to correlate exact reductions in gang crime to the injunctions, he said they can be particularly helpful when gang crime flares.
“When gangs are shooting it up, you can put a lot of resources on an injunction. When they’re not, you don’t,” Beck said.
But the injunctions also can polarize communities, with young minority men in the area complaining they are unfairly stigmatized by being named and photographed.
While the City Attorney’s Office has worked out a petition that prosecutors say streamlines the process for disputing identification in a gang injunction, in the streets, injunctions get a mixed review.
Betty Day, president of the Watts Gang Task Force, said that while injunctions have sometimes helped, community pressure has been more effective in stemming violence.
Cassandra Savage, president of the Jordan Downs Resident Management Corp., said the injunctions have helped with crime, but they also have torn at the community’s social fabric. “The only part I don’t like is the brothers can’t be with each other,” she said. “Family members can’t be together.”
A group of men who admitted to violating the injunction on the Grape Street Crips by drinking vodka together on a street corner recently spoke bitterly of the injunction and said it prevents normal family interactions.
“You can’t stand out here and watch your kids to make sure they’re all right,” one said. “And guess what? Two fathers stand by each other watching their kids, they suddenly go to jail because the law won’t allow them.”