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Police Say Gang Ban Works

Authorities believe a court order barring Oxnard's Colonia Chiques from meeting in public is reducing violent crime in the city.

June 19, 2004|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

Nearly three weeks after a judge banned Oxnard's Colonia Chiques from congregating in public, authorities said Friday that they had served just 24 members of the county's largest street gang with the injunction, and have made no arrests under the June 1 court order.

Yet the threat of the order has had an effect, authorities said; violent crime in Oxnard dropped nearly one-third after the announcement in March that prosecutors hoped to ban an estimated 1,000 Chiques members from gathering in public. And that crime decline has held, at least through last week, the latest reporting period, authorities said.

"They've gone into hiding," Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said. "We're having trouble locating a lot of the gang members."

Totten said that regardless of whether all Chiques are served, the ban has already made Oxnard safer. "In the long term," he said, "I think it will have a deterrent effect because the hard-core criminals know they'll be rolled up and prosecuted."

But Gabriella Navarro-Busch, attorney for most of those served so far, said her clients are not gang members. They are, she said, residents who have had trouble with the law but are now trying to carry on with their lives.

"Innocent people are being identified as gang members with little or no evidence," she said. "They've had contact with the police before, but they've grown up. A lot of them have jobs and families. They are not hanging out with the buddies that got them in trouble."

Yet, they are still affected by the injunction because of its wide scope, the lawyer said.

The preliminary injunction establishes a 6.6-square-mile zone in which those identified as Chiques are banned from assembling. They are also prohibited from flashing gang signs, wearing Dallas Cowboys attire and staying out past 10 p.m. Violators are subject to arrest and may face misdemeanor charges, which could bring a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.

"One of my clients fears that if he has to go to the market to buy diapers for his daughter after curfew, he is going to be arrested," Navarro-Busch said. "This young man -- he's 22 -- has been off probation at least a year. He just wants to go on with his normal life."

Invoking a strategy common in Los Angeles but new for Ventura County, prosecutors asked Superior Court Judge Fred H. Bysshe to sign the injunction about three weeks ago.

Authorities said the Chiques, including parolees who joined the Mexican Mafia in prison, are the county's most violent gang and were involved in 10 homicides in Oxnard last year and four this year before the injunction was announced.

The gang has terrorized Oxnard for 30 years, authorities said, but it has taken its ruthlessness a step further recently -- routinely robbing farm workers, terrifying emergency-room staff at a local hospital and opening fire at gatherings of rival gang members.

Police spokesman David Keith said Friday that four homicides have occurred in Oxnard since the injunction was announced and none of those have been linked to the Chiques or other street gangs.

"We've seen a dramatic decrease in gang activity citywide, and we anticipate a continuing trend of less gang violence as the injunction continues," Keith said. "They're behaving themselves. They realize we're going to be out there and spending a lot of time focusing on them."

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