Gangs unfazed by law, Injunction targets see rise in crime
Los Angeles Daily News
Gangs unfazed by law
Injunction targets see rise in crime
By Jason Kandel
Saturday, March 06, 2004 -
Los Angeles police and prosecutors tout gang injunctions as a necessary and effective crime-fighting tool, but gang-related crime has soared in three of the four San Fernando Valley areas where the court orders are in place, a Daily News analysis shows.
Critics say the figures showing crime up by a third or more in two areas confirm their suspicions that the court injunctions challenge rather than inhibit gang activity.
Law enforcement officials insist gang crime would be even worse without the injunctions that help keep the most notorious members in check.
“The injunction is only a tool — injunctions are one of many tools — and like any tool, it has limitations,” said LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascon. “A hammer works in some places and sometimes you need a screwdriver. It’s not the only answer.”
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said the injunctions encourage the community to report relatively minor infractions — such as gang members congregating in their neighborhood — which, in turn, helps police prevent more serious crime.
“Injunctions are imposed because we’re empowering residents to smoke these thugs out of their holes,” Delgadillo said.
“Do we have an antidote to gangs and gang violence? No. It’s one of those diseases we don’t have a cure for yet. But we have some treatments and one of those tools is gang injunctions.”
Some experts suggest injunctions are less effective against the traditional, long-standing gangs — like those whose roots are in the Valley — than they are against smaller gangs with ties to organized crime.
“Gangs love nothing more than being challenged,” said Malcolm Klein, an internationally known gang expert who is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Southern California.
“It increases their cohesiveness and gives them a sense of identity, which is one of the reasons people join gangs in the first place.”
Using figures provided by the Los Angeles Police Department, the Daily News conducted a month-by-month analysis of gang crime — everything from vandalism to homicides — in the Valley’s four injunction zones.
The figures show the number of crimes committed in the Pacoima area that the Project Boys gang considers its turf has climbed 37 percent since a permanent injunction was imposed in October 2001.
Gang-related crime jumped 33 percent in the Panorama City area where the city filed an injunction against the Blythe Street gang, and 11 percent in the North Hills area inhabited by the Langdon Street gang.
Gang crime in an area of Canoga Park has fallen 18 percent since April 2002, when an injunction was imposed against the Canoga Park Alabama gang.
The city began using gang injunctions in 1987, at the height of the crack cocaine war in Los Angeles, and now has 18 in place throughout the city. Issued by a judge, the order prohibits specific gang members from congregating, selling drugs, carrying weapons, or carrying cellular phones and pagers within a designated area.
Violators can be arrested and face additional penalties, in addition to any criminal charges.
The City Attorney’s Office prosecuted 12 gang injunction violations in the San Fernando Valley in 2001 and 59 last year — a 492 percent increase.
“And those are only our cases, they don’t include felonies that the district attorney prosecutes,” spokesman Eric Moses said. “There’s no doubt the number of prosecutions and reported crimes are increasing. The injunctions serve a very specific purpose.”
But a former member of the Blythe Street gang maintains the injunctions do more harm than good because they force gang members to move to a new neighborhood and also create a void that younger, more violent members try to fill.
“The police ran out all the older guys that are under an injunction,” said Leo, 32, who asked that his last name not be used. “Now you got a bunch of young kids around there with no authority figures.
“Gang injunctions seemed like it might help the situation, but it really didn’t. What it does is just spread the problem.”
Injunctions have long been controversial, with civil libertarians questioning whether they violate gang members’ right to freely associate. The American Civil Liberties Union has also questioned their effectiveness, citing a 1995 study that said crime on Blythe Street increased after a preliminary injunction was imposed two years earlier.
“These numbers are further proof that, over the long term, gang injunctions are not reducing crime,” ACLU associate director Elizabeth Schroeder said.
Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, who oversees the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, disagrees, saying the ultimate goal of the injunctions is to prevent specific gang members from committing crimes.
“You can’t paint this with a broad brush by saying that these gang injunctions don’t work because gang crime went up in those areas because you don’t know who pulled the gang crime,” he said. “The idea is to stop the gangs from pulling crimes in those zones.”
Police say the injunctions would be more effective if there were more officers to enforce them.
The LAPD’s West Valley Division has just seven gang officers and about 20 patrol officers per shift assigned to cover 52 square miles and watch over scores of gangs, including the notorious Canoga Park Alabama gang, which has more than 200 active members.
“We just don’t focus on one gang,” said Lt. Gary Hallden. “We focus on wherever the problems are. It’s a Band-Aid approach.”
Jason Kandel, (818) 713-3664