State

Gang injunctions have helped in some counties

Police complained after the Yolo County district attorney's office filed a gang injunction against West Sacramento's Broderick Boys criminal street gang.

The reason? The injunction slowed down crime so much that it took the thrill out of being a cop in West Sacramento, said District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

"Things were so quiet that they didn't have enough to do," he said. "It used to be a neighborhood where it was an exciting place to be a cop, going from call to call, from shooting to stabbing." Once the gang injunction was in place, Reisig said, police complained to him. "They said, 'It's slow, it's not like it used to be.' "

That's one of the stories officials across the state tell about the impact of gang injunctions in their communities.

Stanislaus County joins a growing list of California counties that use injunctions to control gangs. Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego counties have injunctions.

This month, Los Angeles officials announced a new, stricter brand of injunction against four violent street gangs. It calls for a daytime curfew that keeps gang members out of public view when students walk to and from a specific high school.

Critics say that gang injunctions are ineffective, because they're too general and don't distinguish between delinquents and hard-core criminals.

Here's a look at what other communities have experienced with gang injunctions and what Modesto residents can expect.

CRIME DROPPED

Fresno County filed its first gang injunction in 2003, against the Chankla Bulldogs in Sanger. Authorities expected to go out and arrest gang members for violating the court order, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Anderson. The results were better than that.

"What we didn't count on and what we didn't think would happen is that people would stop committing crimes," Anderson said. "All of a sudden, they stopped committing crimes. It blew us away."

In the six months after the injunction's filing, law enforcement saw a 40 percent drop in calls for service in the area the injunction targeted, Anderson said.

Ventura County experienced a similar crime freeze. For the first couple of months after an injunction was filed against the Colonia Chiques gang in 2004, "all the gangs went underground," said Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold. Police recorded no gang-related assaults for two straight months, she Wold.

It's typical for gang-related crimes to drop dramatic- ally right after an injunction is filed, then creep back up again -- but not to pre- injunction levels, Wold said. In the six months after the injunction, gang crime in Oxnard's targeted neighborhood dropped 85 percent. A year later, crime was down by 65 percent, she said. "Things have never been the same since."

Oxnard has seen a 10 percent overall reduction in crime since Ventura County started filing injunctions, Wold said. "I know 10 percent doesn't sound like a lot," she said, "but when you realize that means one out of every 10 people aren't going to be a victim anymore, that does make a difference."

MISINFORMATION IS COMMON ...

Public opinion can turn against an injunction if people don't understand how it works, officials say.

"There was a lot of panic and fear," Wold said. "People were saying things like, 'So if I walk down the street in a Dallas Cowboys jersey, I'm going to be arrested?' "

Yolo County battled similar misperceptions, Reisig said. Families thought they weren't allowed to have barbecues in their front yards, go to church together, or walk to school together. That's not the case.

"The injunctions aren't designed to interfere with a family's ability to congregate, have parties, go to work," Rei- sig said. "It's designed to keep gang members from congregating in the street, which is a precursor to criminal activity."

... BUT INJUNCTIONS RAISE PUBLIC AWARENESS

By showing where gang crime was committed, who was doing it, and how it affected a neighborhood, gang injunctions in Ventura County raised public awareness about the depth of gang activity, Wold said.

"I think the public was shocked and horrified," she said. "They all knew there was a gang problem, but they didn't know the extent or nature of it."

That in turn helped put the spotlight on programs that can help gang members leave their criminal lives, Wold said. Now, when authorities serve gang members with injunctions, they also hand over a list of programs that could help them, such as tattoo removal services, she said.

PUSHED THE PROBLEM ELSEWHERE?

Some criticize gang injunctions, saying that they only push gangs out of one neighborhood and into another. Officials in Fresno and San Diego County said they haven't seen that phenomenon.

But in Yolo County, Reisig said he'd seen what he called "the push." The gang members targeted by his office's injunction started showing up on law enforcement's radar in Sacramento, just across the river, Reisig said.

"The injunction isn't going to stop them from their life of crime," he said. "They're going to go to a location where there's less resistance."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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