Armed with a new weapon, Oxnard police on Tuesday began serving copies of a civil injunction to alleged members of the Colonia Chiques street gang that bars them from gathering in public within a newly established "safety zone."
Three pairs of gang officers fanned out across the city to hand out copies of the preliminary injunction, as required by law. Police officials hope the court order will help reduce escalating violence attributed to Ventura County's oldest and most violent gang.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, seven alleged gang members had been served. The injunction prohibits them from assembling in public, flashing gang signs, wearing Dallas Cowboys attire and staying out past 10 p.m. within the designated safety zone, which covers roughly half of the populated area of the city.
Once they receive a copy of the injunction, violators can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, penalties include a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.
Since authorities announced their pursuit of the injunction in March, gang crime in the city has dropped significantly, police said. Indeed, several neighborhoods known for their gang activity were unusually quiet Tuesday as officers served copies of the court order.
"I don't remember it being this quiet," said Oxnard Police Senior Officer Tim Kelley, who along with Officer Dan Shrubb handed the papers to two alleged gang members.
About 4 p.m., Kelley and Shrubb stopped by Jose Baez's home on D Street, spoke with his sister and then left behind their contact number. Less than 30 minutes later, Baez called Kelley's cellphone to say he was home from work.
Standing on the porch of his mother's beige stucco house, Baez, 21, didn't dispute his gang membership and even voluntarily removed his shirt and showed visitors his Chiques tattoos: a Dallas Cowboy star and the letters "CO" and "CH" on his shoulders.
But Baez said he was changing his life and he now worked at a plant nursery and was planning to move in with the mother of his infant child.
"What can I say?" Baez told the officers. "I'm staying out of trouble."
With his mother looking on, Baez, who court records show has convictions for drunk driving and giving false information to peace officers, eagerly signed a receipt that acknowledged he had received the legal documents.
Luis Alberto Garcia, also 21, wasn't as cordial when Shrubb and Kelley came to the front door of his family's mobile home on Commercial Avenue about 4:30 p.m.
Clad in blue plaid shorts, a tight tank top and white, knee-high socks, Garcia, who works parking cars for a Port Hueneme car dealership, stopped short of calling the visit harassment.
"This sucks," he said. "I've never been a gang member."
But like the others, Garcia, who has been convicted of felony street terrorism and pot possession, willingly signed the receipt.
Those gang members who could not be found Tuesday will continue to be sought, officers said.
Some have moved or may be on the run because of outstanding criminal warrants. One was being sought for attempted homicide, officers said
"The gang members also know that the injunction can't be enforced until they are served so some of them are going to avoid being served," Kelley said.
Officers, who carry copies of the injunction in both English and Spanish as well as photographs of gang members, hope to serve up to 50 injunctions in the next week. Up to 1,000 gang members eventually could be served.
"We have to improve the quality of life for the law-abiding residents of Oxnard," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Haney said Tuesday.
Haney, who along with prosecutor Karen Wold drafted the injunction, plans to seek a permanent order at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Fred Bysshe in August. Bysshe approved the preliminary injunction June 1.
If granted, a permanent order would be unprecedented in Ventura County and the safety zone would be one of the largest in the country, authorities said.