On paper, leaving a gang Is difficult
|L.A. uses injunctions to fight thugs, but those who go straight find it’s hard to get off the list.; [HOME EDITION]|
|Patrick McGreevy and Sandy Banks. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Mar 23, 2006. pg. A.1|
|Subjects:||Crime prevention, Gangs, Injunctions|
|Locations:||Los Angeles California|
|People:||Bratton, William, Hahn, Janice|
|Author(s):||Patrick McGreevy and Sandy Banks|
|Section:||Main News; Part A; Metro Desk|
|Publication title:||Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Mar 23, 2006. pg. A.1|
|ProQuest document ID:||1008128161|
|Text Word Count||1518|
|Abstract (Document Summary)|
|Over the years, about 2,000 to 3,000 people have been served with gang injunctions and therefore are subject to restrictions, said Assistant City Atty. Marty Vranicar. He said about 350 gang members have been prosecuted for violating injunctions, and many have been sent to jail.MAP: Keeping gangs at bay; CREDIT: Los Angeles Times; INNOVATOR: Former Mayor [James K. Hahn], flanked by Police Chief [William J. Bratton] and City Atty. Rocky [Delgadillo], pioneered the use of gang injunctions when he was city attorney. The city obtained its first injunction in 1993, against the Blythe Street gang in Van Nuys.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times; CONCERN: Councilwoman [Janice Hahn] said no one has ever gotten off an injunction’s list of targeted gang members.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Los Angeles Times|
|Full Text (1518 words)|
|(Copyright (c) 2006 Los Angeles Times)After more than a decade of successfully using restrictive court injunctions to battle dangerous street gangs, some Los Angeles officials now fear that key provisions have unfairly held back young people struggling to go straight.Police Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday that though he wants to expand the use of a tool that has proved effective in the city’s fight against an estimated 39,000 hoodlums, he and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo have agreed to first conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the injunction program.”We want to take a look at all of them, do a top-to-bottom review that will include making sure the appropriate people are [listed] in them, because some of these injunctions go back 13 years,” Bratton said.City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents a district plagued by some of the worst gang violence in the city, said the injunction program appears to be doing harm as well as good.
Hahn said that after she and Bratton attended a recent community meeting in Watts, she became concerned because no one has ever succeeded in getting removed from an injunction’s official list of restricted gang members.
Young people covered by injunctions can have trouble getting jobs because the injunctions show up in employment background checks. Some have trouble getting to work or even school because they cannot ride in cars or buses if other gang members are present.
And they may be disqualified from participating in school sports if former associates play in the same league.
Critics say the injunctions sometimes target people who were never in a gang but had relatives or friends who were.
Bratton “heard loud and clear from the community that there is a gray area of young people who had one foot in, but have really tried to turn their lives around, are going to school, have jobs and are looking for a second chance,” Hahn said. “But the fact that their names are on the list makes it problematic to do that.”
On Wednesday, Hahn sent a letter to Bratton, Delgadillo and Police Commission President John W. Mack, asking that they meet with her April 11 to discuss the evaluation.
Her call for changes in the injunctions was seen by some as ironic given that her brother, former Mayor and longtime City Atty. James K. Hahn, pioneered the use of gang injunctions.
The use of injunctions has made Los Angeles a model for anti- gang efforts. Mayors from across the country are coming to Los Angeles next week to hear about the program at a summit sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The injunctions typically identify gang members and prohibit them from associating in public or loitering in certain neighborhoods. And they allow for enhanced penalties for members who trespass, gamble, violate curfew, commit vandalism or break other laws.
Members may not possess weapons, spray-paint cans used in graffiti or open containers of alcohol.
They also are enjoined from being near anyone selling or possessing drugs, which may be difficult if drug dealers operate in front of their homes, civil rights attorneys say.
Community leaders, including Silvia Beltran of the gang- intervention program Homies Unidos, say there are many examples of people being improperly included in injunctions.
Beltran said she knows one young man who graduated from Cal State Los Angeles and was working on a master’s degree at USC when he was charged with violating an old injunction.
The man won dismissal of the charge in criminal court, and might sue the city to get his name off the list.
“He denies that he was an active gang member,” Beltran said. “But he grew up in the neighborhood, and it’s easy to be included.”
Over the years, about 2,000 to 3,000 people have been served with gang injunctions and therefore are subject to restrictions, said Assistant City Atty. Marty Vranicar. He said about 350 gang members have been prosecuted for violating injunctions, and many have been sent to jail.
If police suspect someone is a gang member not listed in the original injunction, the city can still serve them and add their name to a list kept by the LAPD’s gang enforcement unit.
Mark Harvis, a deputy public defender who has handled many gang cases, said that part of the city’s policy is fundamentally unfair because the person served with an injunction often does not know why he is being included. Harvis said there also is no process for appealing the inclusion.
Delgadillo firmly defended the current standard for getting out of a gang injunction, although he also said Wednesday that he is open to refining the program. “Gangs are an epidemic in the city of Los Angeles” Delgadillo said, adding that injunctions “do have an effect.”
Bratton said he believes that gang injunctions are one reason violent crime is down 6.4% so far this year in Los Angeles.
The city has 26 civil gang injunctions covering 36 gangs, and more are imminent, said Contessa Mankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the city attorney.
Since the first injunction was obtained in 1993 against the Blythe Street gang in Van Nuys, gangs occupying more than 60 square miles of territory in the city of Los Angeles — 13% of its total area — have been made subject to civil injunctions.
In many injunctions, a number of gang members are identified by name in the court papers, but the injunction also includes dozens of “John Does” to be named later.
Once the permanent injunction is issued, officers can identify gang associates and include their names in a database that makes them subject to the injunction’s restrictions.
Injunctions rely, at least in part, on the state’s Cal/Gang database, a computerized list of people considered to be gang members based on criteria that include identification by informants, gang tattoos, style of dress, arrest record and associations.
That database has been criticized by law enforcement officials and civil rights activists for being outdated and overly broad.
“We found people in that database whose information came from 20- year-old [confidential] gang cards,” said civil rights attorney Connie Rice. “Middle-class citizens who own homes, work, have children, haven’t been involved in gangs for years and years and years…. The problem is, there’s no exit ramp. You can get on, but you can’t get off.”
Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, who has challenged a gang injunction in court, said it appears some people have been added to the database just because they were stopped and interviewed by the police for being near known gang members.
City officials say injunctions contain escape avenues for gang members who are no longer active.
Most are like the injunction against the Grape Street Crips, which allows those identified to ask to be excluded if they publicly renounce their gang membership and sign a sworn statement that they have not associated with other gang members for at least three years and not had run-ins with the law in that same period.
The alleged gang member must also have been employed or attended school and made consistent progress, both for at least 18 months before the renunciation.
Bratton acknowledged that if a former gang member lives in a housing project populated by gang members, he might find it impossible to escape being seen in their company.
The review will also look at the requirement for people to publicly renounce their gang membership, Bratton said, adding there may be an alternative.
“That is the biggest hurdle I have heard people talk about,” Bratton said. “Is there a potential danger in doing that? That’s an element of the review.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
At a glance
Q: How many gang members are in Los Angeles?
A: About 39,000, according to the city attorney’s office. Gang members commit about 7,000 crimes a year, including about 300 murders.
Q: How many gangs have been cited by injunctions?
A: Thirty-six gangs have been named in 26 injunctions.
Q: How do injunctions work?
A: If gang members are known to be causing trouble, the city can ask a judge to declare them a criminal street gang and a public nuisance. Much like restraining orders, the civil court rulings impose various restrictions. Violators can be fined $1,000 or jailed for up to six months.
Q: What conduct is typically prohibited?
A: Members must obey all laws and avoid using drugs and alcohol. They cannot publicly associate, block parking, intimidate people, carry illegal weapons or vandalism tools, loiter, act as lookouts or so-called “hooks,” trespass, gamble, obstruct traffic, violate curfew or approach vehicles.
Source: Los Angeles city attorney’s office
Credit: Times Staff Writers