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Agencies Differ Over Tactics to Combat Gangs

Sheriff Baca wants to expand the use of court injunctions to curb illegal activity. The D.A.'s office says the tool has limitations.

August 13, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County law enforcement officials are divided over the effectiveness of fighting gang activity with court-approved injunctions that restrict the activities of individual gang members.

The split in opinion between the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office emerged Tuesday when officials from the two agencies delivered conflicting reports on the use of the injunctions.

Sheriff Lee Baca praised the use of injunctions and supported its expansion. The injunctions prohibit named gang members from engaging in a wide range of activities, from congregating in parks to flagging down automobiles. While some of the normally proscribed activities already are illegal, such as urinating in public or drug possession, Baca said the injunctions can help push the individuals they target away from gangs.

The Sheriff's Department currently enforces injunctions against three gangs in the cities of Compton and Norwalk and in the unincorporated area of Lennox. Baca said the restrictions "are very, very useful in setting the tone for the neighborhood" and in sending a message to gang members that "whatever you do, it's not only against specific laws, it's also against the injunction, and we are going to hold you accountable."

But Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke drew a less enthusiastic response from Janet Moore, head of the district attorney's Hardcore Gang Division, when Burke noted that "we have plenty of gangs in the Compton area," and suggested broadening the injunctions to include more gangs.

Speaking on behalf of District Atty. Steve Cooley, Moore called the injunctions a valuable tool in combating gang activity, but said that they focus on civil rather than criminal offenses, that they must be narrowly tailored to be effective and that, without heavy investments of time and resources, "virtually all gang injunctions are doomed to failure."

Moore said that the district attorney's gang division has 50 attorneys with an average monthly caseload of 450 gang crimes, almost all of which are murders and attempted murders, and that there are other programs, including a new regional gang task force, dedicated to reducing gang activity and violence.

"Injunctions are not a panacea for the gang problem and should certainly not be given precedence or preference over the prosecution of violent or serious crime," Moore said.

The district attorney's office has 11 gang injunctions in force in Los Angeles County, including the three enforced by the Sheriff's Department.

In addition, the Los Angeles city attorney's office is enforcing 17 injunctions.

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