New study says gang injunctions provide short-term benefits
By: SCOTT MARSHALL – Staff Writer
Last modified Thursday, September 29, 2005 10:05 PM PDT
NORTH COUNTY —- Gang injunctions limiting the activities of alleged gang members can make gangs less visible in the community, reduce residents’ anxiety about gang members and make residents feel less intimidated by gangs, a new study shows.
However, a critic of the study said the study measured residents’ perceptions, but doesn’t indicate whether gang injunctions prevent crime.
Gang injunctions, one of which is scheduled to be debated in a Vista courtroom today, are civil court orders that prohibit alleged gang members from engaging in several activities within specified areas of a city. The prohibited activities usually include being with other known gang members, possessing guns or other dangerous weapons, fighting, graffiti, making gang hand signs and wearing gang clothes.
Alleged gang members can be arrested and prosecuted for alleged violations of the civil injunctions, facing possible fines and up to six months in jail for each violation.
Residents in some North County neighborhoods where gang injunctions have been implemented have credited them with helping reduce gang activity.
Jan Ohlandt, an Escondido resident who lives in the area restricting the Westside gang, said some gang members appear to have moved a block away from her house, but that she thought the injunction was worthwhile.
“We really don’t see them or hear them,” Ohlandt said. “They (gang members) haven’t seemed to bother anybody at all since” the gang injunction took effect.
The gang injunction study, published in the journal Criminology and Public Policy, purports to be “the first scientific evaluation” of how gang injunctions affect the communities where they are implemented. The study focused on “changes in the quality of life” in a neighborhood rather than how an injunction affected gang members or crime levels.
The San Diego County district attorney’s office has obtained 12 gang injunctions countywide since 1997, including four in Oceanside, two in Escondido and one in San Marcos. Prosecutors have requested one gang injunction in Vista as well. A trial to determine whether that injunction will be made permanent is scheduled for today in the Superior Court in Vista.
While law enforcement officials and some North County residents have said gang injunctions make neighborhoods safer, critics have long argued that they target poor people who lose personal freedoms because they can’t afford attorneys to defend them.
ACLU attorney Candace Carroll said one of the problems she sees with gang injunctions is that they outlaw a lot of behavior that otherwise would be legal.
“Nothing in this study solves that problem,” Carroll said.
State appeals courts have ruled that the civil gang injunctions don’t violate civil rights and that the law doesn’t allow court-appointed attorneys in such cases.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez, who works on all gang injunction cases her office files, said that how the injunctions affect neighborhoods varies, but that she believes they increase communication between law enforcement and residents.
“I think the residents feel safer,,” Perez said.
A joint effort of professors from UC Irvine and the University of Southern California, the study examined a San Bernardino neighborhood where authorities obtained a gang injunction and four nearby communities, including one that was a “secondary” community covered by the gang injunction. Nearly 800 residents in the five communities were surveyed 18 months before the gang injunction was obtained, and 1,229 residents were surveyed six months after it was issued, the study states.
In the “primary” area to which the gang injunction applied, residents reported that they saw gang members hanging out less often after the injunction, that they were less anxious about gang activities, and were less afraid of having a confrontation with a gang member. The percentage of people who reported any intimidation by a gang member dropped from 55 percent before the injunction to 47 percent after, the study stated.
“First and foremost, it (the study) is telling us community members in the neighborhoods where gang injunctions are implemented can see and feel the difference in their neighborhoods,” said Cheryl Maxson, a UC Irvine associate professor and co-author of the study.
Maxson said, however, that “the bad news” is that the “secondary” gang injunction area did not show the same positive results.
Residents in the secondary area reported seeing gang members more often, were more anxious about gang activity and had a greater fear of a confrontation with a gang member. The percentage of people in that area who said they experienced any intimidation from a gang member rose from 38 percent to 42 percent.
Maxson said the results from the “secondary” area should signal law enforcement officials “not to overreach” in deciding the geographic area an injunction should cover. The study states that possible reasons for the negative results in the secondary area include that the area had less gang activity and social disorder before the injunction, and the injunction may have produced “cohesiveness” or “oppositional defiance” among gang members who lived in that area.
Contact staff writer Scott Marshall at (760