Criminal Justice

Sweeping Anti-Gang Injunction Poses Problems for LAPD & Suspects

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In an attempt to help protect residents against gang members who allegedly extort money from community residents, among other crimes, Los Angeles authorities arranged this summer to get a sweeping injunction in one San Fernando Valley community.

The 37th such court order in the city, it restricts the activities of suspected members of the San Fer gang throughout an almost 10-square-mile area—the largest ever—and gives law enforcement officials enhanced powers to arrest them. But it also infringes on their legitimate activities, reports the Los Angeles Times. And, a number of locals say, it wrongly portrays what is in many ways a nice community as a war zone.

One of those who may now be targeted by the injunction is a 15-year-old named Daniel who apparently isn’t actually a member of the gang, but unfortunately spray-painted a shortened version of the name of area where he lives—“San Fer”—on a building last week and was caught by police. A previous encounter with police, when he was pulled over for not wearing a bike helmet and then asked, because he has acne, whether he is a methamphetamine addict, made him more resistant to authority, his family says, and they worry that additional police attention will drive him closer to the gang.

As authorities recognize, the extraordinary powers they are given by the San Fer gang injunction can be misused, the newspaper writes. And, particularly concerning its prohibition against suspected gang members associating with each other, it can require difficult policing decisions.

“What should be done about teenagers who identify with a gang but do not participate in its criminal activities? If a gang spans generations, like San Fer, should an uncle be prohibited from speaking with his nephew if both are gang members? Officers are forced to make difficult judgments on the fly,” the newspaper writes, paraphrasing the thoughts of Bruce Riordan, who directs anti-gang operations for the Los Angeles city attorney.

“We are seeking a balance,” Riordan tells the Times, “between aggressive prosecution … and enlightened enforcement.”

Related coverage: “Novel Court Order: No Gang Loitering” “More Suits Target Gangs” “Injunctions to Curtail Citizen Activities?” “Reviews Promised for Gang Lists”

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