El Paso City’s injunction efforts against gangs emulate California cities

By Ramon Bracamontes / El Paso Times

EL PASO — Civil court injunctions designed to wipe out street gangs have been a popular tactic of police and government lawyers in Southern California for more than 20 years.

Now El Paso hopes to follow the lead of Los Angeles and San Diego by obtaining court injunctions to stop gang members from meeting in any public place.

The two Southern California cities have obtained civil injunctions against more than 50 gangs that purportedly committed crimes such as drug dealing, extortion and murder.

“The injunctions work. They suppress gang activity,” said Ken So of the San Diego city attorney’s staff. “The injunctions serve to prevent a crime from happening before it occurs or is planned.”

El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez has obtained a temporary restraining order against 27 alleged members of the Bloods street gang. He says they operate mostly in the Northeast section of the city.

Rodríguez says he hopes to make the order permanent and obtain additional civil injunctions targeting every other gang on El Paso’s streets.

In San Diego, city and county attorneys have teamed to secure 16 injunctions against gangs since 1997. Los Angeles has in place 37 injunctions naming 57 gangs, the first dating to 1987.

The injunctions are restraining orders against entire groups of people. These civil lawsuits are used to obtain court orders that prohibit gang members from gathering in public. The injunctions also ask for special rules, such as prohibitions against alleged gang members using cell phones in parks or other public places.

El Paso’s temporary injunction against alleged gang members took effect Friday and will remain until April 1. A hearing is scheduled then to see if a judge will make it permanent.

The injunction against the Bloods is the second one filed in El Paso. In 2003, the county attorney’s office, working with the Police Department, filed an injunction against the Barrio Azteca gang. That injunction prohibited its members from congregating in South El Paso.

El Paso police Chief Greg Allen said the injunction against Barrio Azteca, a prison gang with some members on the streets, essentially ended their activities in South El Paso. Allen said he expected the injunction against the Bloods to make the streets safer.

Rodríguez said the injunction against the Bloods would be the first of several.

“We are targeting only people who have a history of engaging in criminal activity and continue to do so,” he said.

He did not name any of the other gangs that would be the target of injunctions.

In Southern California, the American Civil Liberties Union has opposed some of the injunctions. The ACLU said certain provisions were written so vaguely that they could prohibit siblings from riding together in the family car.

“This injunction allows police officers to impose parole-like restrictions on people with little or no investigation. That gives enormous discretion to police officers and carries huge potential for abuse, whether malicious or not,” said Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU in Southern California. “We already see police in other areas placing people under an injunction for little more than being related to someone in a gang.”

So, of the San Diego city attorney’s office, said that in his city gang injunctions are also being used to help members obtain a better life.

“Most of the gang members, if you talk to them by themselves, they are good people,” So said. “Only when they are hanging with their homeboys do they act tough. With the injunctions we identify them and help them try to change their life by getting them into GED programs and into doing other things.”

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