ACLU Report Says Gang Injunction Failed to Reduce Crime

Wednesday, May 28, 1997

LOS ANGELES — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California today released a report, False Premise, False Promise: The Blythe Street Gang Injunction and Its Aftermath , that concludes that a much-touted injunction issued in 1993 against a San Fernando Valley street gang failed to reduce crime in the community, and may have increased violent crime in adjacent communities and for the area as a whole.

The report examines the effect of the nation’s most well-publicized gang injunction, issued against the Blythe Street gang of the San Fernando Valley. On February 22, 1993, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office sought an injunction (People vs Blythe Street Gang) targeting as many as 500 members of the Blythe Street Gang, a Latino street gang. Superior Court Judge John A. Major issued the order in April of 1993.

The ACLU Foundation analyzed data supplied by the Los Angeles Police Department under a California Public Records Act request filed by the ACLU in March of 1997. Information was gathered for 19 LAPD Reporting Districts that include and surround the area covered under the injunction.

“The belief that violating basic civil liberties is justified when communities are under siege is disproved by our findings,” said ACLU Foundation Public Affairs Director Allan Parachini. “After the injunction took effect, crime — not just in the Blythe Street area but throughout much of Panorama City — actually increased. Gang injunctions do not mitigate crime, and should be abandoned as a tactic.”

The report, which examines objective law enforcement data obtained from the LAPD, contradicts the claims made regarding the effect of injunctions on actual and perceived community safety. The area examined included 19 Reporting Districts that straddle the Van Nuys and Devonshire Divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Los Angeles Police Department is comprised of 18 divisions. Each division includes between 75 to 125 Reporting Districts (RDs). The area of the injunction is located in the Panorama City area of the San Fernando Valley, and covers a maximum north-south distance of approximately 5 1/2 miles and a maximum east-west distance of approximately four miles.

The neighborhood under injunction is Reporting District 925 in the Van Nuys Division. RD 925 is bordered by Woodman Avenue to the east, the 405 Freeway to the west, Osborne Street to the north, and Victory Blvd. to the south.

The report examined LAPD information on criminal activity in the area in question from late 1992, before the injunction was issued, through late 1994 or early 1995, more than 18 months following the court order. Three kinds of data were analyzed: numbers of reported violent crime (aggravated assault, rape, robbery and homicide), calls for service and felony drug arrests. This data was examined from four perspectives: Reporting District 925 alone (which coincidentally includes the entire injunction area); the RDs located immediately north of the injunction area (where violent crime significantly increased following the injunction); the 19 RDs in the Valley; and the City of Los Angeles as a whole.

While the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles City Attorney claimed the injunction would dramatically reduce crime in the targeted area and return the neighborhood to its law-abiding residents, the ACLU report says that the actual effect of the injunction was to push violent crime into the surrounding communities. And, as the data reveals, violent crime actually escalated in the area covered by the injunction immediately following its issuance.

Because of the intense media attention and law enforcement activity in the Blythe Street area after city officials sought the injunction in February 1993, it was assumed criminal activity was reduced in the area under scrutiny. A review of the LAPD data shows that RD 925 did not experience any reduction in crime. In fact, the number of violent crimes reported in this area increased in 1993 to 160 from 155 the previous year. Calls for police service in RD 925 increased in 1993, declined in 1994, but increased again in 1995 and 1996.

The four reporting districts immediately north of the injunction area saw an increase in the number of violent crimes, calls for police service and felony drug arrests, a pattern consistent with the view that injunctions do not solve, but simply move the criminal activity outside the area. The figures for violent crimes, calls for service and felony drug abuse indicate a cavalier attitude on the part of criminals who were not fazed by the increased police activity several blocks away.

Perhaps most startling are the figures contrasting the crime data of the City of Los Angeles as a whole to the 19 reporting district area surrounding the area covered by the injunction. In the entire 19 reporting district area, violent crime reported increased 52.1 percent between February of 1993 and June of 1993 and 27.1 percent between April 1993 and August of 1994. Between February 1993 and August 1994 total violent crime in the City of Los Angeles rose only 16.5 percent; from April 1993 through July 1993 total violent crime increased 8.6 percent.

The ACLU report says that instead of reducing criminal activity in the area covered by the injunction, violent crime and drug trafficking actually increased in this area. Further, crime increased considerably in the adjacent areas and crime statistics were higher in the 19-reporting district zone surrounding and including the injunction area than for Los Angeles as a whole.

The report concludes, “The fact that the injunction was followed by an immediate, pronounced increase in crime rates in Reporting District 925 should be the final piece of evidence in the case that argues the futility — and even foolhardiness — of relying on court orders to prevent crime in the absence of any other steps to address the complex of factors that influence gang membership and gang violence.”

“Clearly,” said Ramona Ripston, ACLU of Southern California Executive Director, “there are lessons to be learned about the price of abrogating civil liberties in the name of public safety. The proponents of gang injunctions have argued that these court orders are a magic bullet for gang violence. Clearly, we’ve shown today that this is entirely untrue. We must seek true solutions — solutions that aren’t quick or cheap and that require long-term political resolve, not short-term posturing.”

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