For the second time this year, Oakland is pursing an injunction to prevent gang members from operating in a part of the city designated a “safe zone.”
City Attorney John Russo and Police Chief Anthony Batts announced the planned legal action yesterday. It targets 42 alleged members of the Norteños street gang (complaint at bottom) and, if a judge grants the request, will prohibit all manner of activities over a large swath of south Oakland (click on the graphic below to see the full map).
Per the city’s complaint, those activities would include actions such as:
- Associating with gang colleagues
- Displaying gang symbols
- Confronting crime witnesses
- Trespassing, loitering or staying out at night when violent crimes are more likely
- Possessing dangerous weapons, drugs and spray paint.
Oakland has a similar injunction in effect since June along its border with Emeryville against the North Side Oakland gang.
The orders grant police wide authority to clamp down on suspected gang activity in the “safe zone.”
Gang injunctions have been popular for decades in southern California cities – including Long Beach, where Batts served as chief before taking over Oakland’s force last year. Bay Area law enforcement agencies have warmed to the injunctions in recent years.
The ACLU of Northern California has vigorously opposed injunctions in San Francisco and Oakland, questioning whether the orders are the most effective way to address gang criminal activity. The civil rights organization also argues the injunctions encourage racial profiling.
Oakland is attributing more than 80 serious or violent crimes in the safety zone to the 42 Norteños members. The gang members were sometimes victims in the incidents, particularly the documented attempted murders, said Alex Katz, a spokesman for the city attorney.
“One of the big problems is the fact that these guys are bullet magnets,” Katz said. “They’re bringing other people into the neighborhood who are trying to kill them.”
Jory Steele, managing attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said that rationale for including some of the alleged gang members is illogical.
“I can’t understand why they would be subjected to the civil-liberties restrictions in a gang injunction,” Steele said of crime victims.
One of the primary questions about the impact of the injunctions is whether they actually quell gang activity or just displace it.
The U.S. Justice Department has funded some research on the tactic. The first such examination [PDF] took a look at injunctions in San Bernardino, which resulted in a 2005 report titled, “Can Civil Gang Injunctions Change Communities?”
In it, researchers struggled to answer their own question. The report states:
On the long-term outcome indicators, we found little evidence that immediate effects on residents translated into larger improvements in neighborhood quality (i.e., neighborhood social cohesion, informal social control, collective efficacy and police/community relationships), although reductions in fear of crime and gang visibility, fear and intimidation may be precursors to such change in the long run.
We found tantalizing hints of such changes in the comparison of the primary, new injunction area with a contiguous area in which an injunction had been implemented five years prior to the second survey.
At the time of that survey, the two areas had similar levels of gang visibility, fear and intimidation, but the longstanding injunction area showed favorable levels of social cohesion, neighborhood and collective efficacy, and willingness to call the police if a gang member threatened residents.
Today, Alameda Superior Court Justice Robert Freedman is scheduled to review how Oakland police have executed the existing injunction against North Side Oakland, KALW News reported.
Steele said the city has filed documents with the court indicating police haven’t made a single arrest for violations against the injunction.
That detail stands in stark contrast to the city’s complaints, which suggest rampant gang-related violent crime. And the complaint targeting the Norteños at times reads as a plea for help.
“Plaintiff has no plain, speedy, or adequate remedy at law and will continue to suffer irreparable damage, injury, and harm unless equitable relief is granted,” the complaint says. “Criminal laws have been unable to stop Defendants’ criminal and nuisance activities.”