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City Plans to Go After Valley Gang With Injunction

Crime: Delgadillo will seek a court order to curb the activities of the Canoga Park Alabama group in a nearly five-square-mile 'safety zone.'

January 31, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said Wednesday that he will seek a court injunction against a west San Fernando Valley gang that has been on the streets for 70 years.

The injunction, which must be approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, would prohibit members of the Canoga Park Alabama gang from associating with each other inside a 4.65-square-mile "safety zone."

The public-nuisance suit against the gang also seeks to impose a daily 10 p.m. curfew on its estimated 565 members, city prosecutors said.

"Some of the residents in these areas can't go out at night, and it's difficult to lead normal lives where they live and own homes," Delgadillo said.

"With this, we are trying to bring back some basic freedoms and liberties to the residents of these neighborhoods, who have been terrorized for generations," he said.

The anti-gang effort targets Canoga Park Alabama members operating within the boundaries of Winnetka Boulevard to the east, Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the west and Vanowen and Nordhoff streets to the south and north.

Targeting gang associations through the courts dates back to 1993, when city and county authorities imposed restrictions on the Blythe Street gang in Panorama City via a lawsuit.

A Canoga Park Alabama gang injunction would be the 11th in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office also has secured anti-gang injunctions in Compton, Inglewood, Lennox, Long Beach, Pasadena and Norwalk, prosecutors said.

Gang injunctions have been widely embraced by municipal officials because the court orders give police broad latitude to arrest gang members for seemingly innocuous activities, such as loitering or being in the presence of someone with a weapon or selling drugs.

LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergman, commanding officer of the San Fernando Valley Bureau, said he believes the injunctions are effective because they target the most violent and active gangs.

"When you look at the injunctions that we have in the Valley, they go after gangs that have been a major thorn in the side of police and the community," Bergman said. "I think gang injunctions are just another tool to deal with gang violence."

Not everyone is sold on injunctions. Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian said they can be an effective tool in curbing gang activity, but they often work for only a limited time.

"If, in fact, a community has lost control of the neighborhood, it's a very effective tool in the short run," Melekian said of the two injunctions in his city. "But if you don't address the underlying issues--like prevention and intervention programs for kids in gangs--you don't solve the problem."

The injunctions have drawn the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, which considers the court orders unconstitutional.

The group, which led an unsuccessful fight against the Blythe Street gang injunction, says such policies push gang members into other neighborhoods and do little to mitigate overall criminal activity.

But in the end, Delgadillo said, injunctions are not used exclusive of other crime prevention tools. "The most effective public policy combines enforcement with prevention," he said. "The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life."

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