Anti-gang injunction evokes mixed feelings

By Rachel Uranga, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/27/2008 09:57:58 PM PDT

 

LOS ANGELES – Alicia De La Cruz hears the words city and county prosecutors use to describe her and her Sylmar neighbors and is left puzzled.

Can they be talking about us?

“Virtual prisoners in their homes.”

“They cannot go to the local market without being assaulted and robbed by San Fer gang members.”

The alarming portrayal came in a 14-page request earlier this month for a gang injunction to severely limit the movement of the San Fers, one of the San Fernando Valley’s most menacing gangs, with ties to the drug trade and the Mexican Mafia.

Los Angeles police and prosecutors say the injunction is needed to wrest control of the communities of San Fernando and Sylmar away from gang members and give it back to law-abiding residents such as the De La Cruzes.

But while the De La Cruzes and others concede their neighborhood isn’t Mayberry, they say it also is not the virtual war zone depicted by district attorneys.

And they worry the injunction is too far-reaching and could ultimately erode the value of the homes many have sunk their life savings into.

“I don’t know why they say this,” said De La Cruz, 49. “Maybe I have never noticed. I walk to the store. I can say this is a good area.”

Area residents angered by the request for the injunction say it unfairly lumps neighborhoods of manicured single-family homes and gated communities – where they have raised their kids for years without fear with areas of dense apartment buildings and older homes where some problems do occur.

Still, the issue is complex. Even De La Cruz admits she has called police about gang members hanging out near her four-bedroom house in a safe, gated Sylmar community.

And in defending the injunction request, which a judge will hear June 24, the City Attorney’s Office says it was created in cooperation with the city of San Fernando and the LAPD’s top gang officers.

“The gang problem can be easily hidden; it doesn’t necessarily appear in clear sight,” said Bruce Riordan, head of anti-gang operations for the City Attorney’s Office. “It does move asymmetrically. It can appear in the evening and disappear in the morning.

“You may not be confronted by the gang … but should you run afoul by word or deed … I promise you … will feel the wrath of that gang, and it will be terrifying.”

The injunction request filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court is among the largest in the city of Los Angeles.

It would cover a 9.5-square-mile area including all of San Fernando and Sylmar – asserting that the San Fers have enormous influence in the area, intimidating the elderly, recruiting the young and robbing at will.

It details an area gripped with fear and plagued with violence. It cites cases of young people regularly being intimidated, the random shooting of a man baby-sitting his 1-year-old and the beating of people out for a walk.

Gang members, it says, think they are above the law.

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcsn, whose jurisdiction includes Sylmar and Pacoima – where a much smaller injunction restricts the movement of the Project Boyz gang – says he has been fielding complaints from Sylmar residents who are concerned their property values will fall.

And he is questioning whether the injunction might include too large a swath of the city.

“I don’t think there’s a dispute we need gang enforcement in Sylmar, but when you are issuing a gang injunction, it has ramifications in the community that are unintended consequences,” he said. “The geography of it has raised the concern as to whether or not it needs to be tightened up.”

Alarcsn has scheduled a community meeting in May and is asking the city attorney to explain the impact of the injunction to the City Council’s ad hoc committee on gangs and youth development.

“There is no doubt San Fers are active in criminal activity, that they live in Sylmar,” he said.

“I believe there may be sufficient grounds for the injunction. But usually they are very specific. The community has the right to know more about it.”

For police officers who walk the streets of Sylmar and San Fernando, the injunction would be an essential crime-fighting weapon.

Under the injunction – the fifth in the San Fernando Valley and 37th citywide – San Fer members could not associate in public places and could not act as lookouts or be in the presence of controlled substances.

It also would place them under a strict curfew and prohibit them from owning spray paint or anything that can be used for graffiti.

Since January 2007, 750 gang members have been cited citywide for violations of an injunction.

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