SACRAMENTO — Promising "great strides" in the battle against gangs, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and a group of Democratic legislators unveiled a package of bills Thursday that would increase punishments against gang members and make it easier for the authorities to evict them, seize their property and deter them from intimidating witnesses.
The measures are the latest in a barrage of legislation filed this year in response to increased gang violence and activity statewide. Gang violence increased in Los Angeles by 15.7% last year, spurring authorities to seek better ways to combat their entrenched presence.
California has 150,000 gang members and 3,700 street gangs, Delgadillo said at a news conference outside the state Capitol, where he was surrounded by Democratic legislators sponsoring six bills.
"In the city of Los Angeles, gang members are believed responsible for 56% of the homicides," Delgadillo said. He said the proposals would allow cities to "make great strides in our battle against gangs by giving law enforcement officials the tools we need to get the job done."
But Republicans, who are offering 14 bills of their own, questioned the effectiveness of the package, calling it incremental, not creative enough and too meek. Also, some criminal justice experts said that tougher law enforcement alone would be of little effect unless melded with strong prevention and neighborhood support.
"It might be some help, but unless intimately conjoined with a very robust strategy, the results are not going to be as strong," said Jack Calhoun, a designer of California's 13-City Gang Prevention Initiative, which seeks to test and develop anti-gang techniques.
Delgadillo's gang legislation has drawn enthusiastic support from Los Angeles County lawmakers eager to tackle the resurgent problem. Five of the six bills are sponsored by legislators from Los Angeles, Montebello or Burbank. The measures would:
* Permit out-of-court signed or videotaped statements made by prosecution witnesses to be used in trials when gang members prevent direct testimony by either intimidating or harming the witnesses. AB 268 is sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello).
* Allow local prosecutors to bring damage suits against gang members and seize their assets. The state attorney general already has that power, but SB 271 by Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) would extend it to prosecutors in cities with at least 375,000 residents.
* Allow prosecutors to evict tenants when illegal weapons are found on their premises, as they can already do in cases of illegal drugs. AB 1013 is sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank).
* Increase punishments for gang members who commit crimes within 1,500 feet of schools and who commit hate crimes by targeting gangs of other ethnicities. SB 844 is sponsored by Calderon and SB 989 is sponsored by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles).
* Make it a misdemeanor to induce a minor to join a street gang. AB 1033 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas).
Delgadillo, who has been rumored to be contemplating a challenge to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, said the proposals would complement other parts of his anti-gang efforts. He has also called for mandatory school uniforms in the public schools, legal actions to shut down the headquarters of the 10 worst gangs and injunctions to keep gang members away from the neighborhoods they prowl.
The L.A. City Council has also gotten into the act. It decided in January to prepare a ballot measure that would impose a parcel tax to raise $50 million or more annually for gang intervention and prevention programs.
GOP lawmakers' proposals would require paroled gang members to wear global-positioning tracking devices, create new felonies for participating in gang behavior and require municipalities to keep track of how gang prevention money is spent. Another bill would permit people who provided inmates with something used in gang crimes -- a weapon or even a cellphone -- to be charged as if they committed the crimes themselves.
Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), the author of several of the measures, said the Democratic proposal was not particularly creative and "very light on penalties" because the Democrats did not seek to designate as felonies some gang crimes now charged as misdemeanors, as the GOP proposals would.
"We look at these gang members as hardened criminals, and we don't think another six months or year in jail is going to change their behavior," he said.
He noted that the bill to deter recruiting of minors for gangs would provide for sentences of up to a year in jail, while current law permits up to three years.