Officials, lawyers debate proposed gang injunction

ACLU to fight S.F. attempt to get court order against Oakdale Mob’s gatherings

The American Civil Liberties Union stated Monday that it would challenge a civil injunction sought by The City to prevent members of a Bayview street gang from congregating and conducting gang activity in a specified area.

Without revealing any details of the method or reasons behind the group’s opposition, ACLU spokeswoman Stella Richardson said Monday that the group would take legal action against the sought injunction as early as this week.

Next Monday, a San Francisco Superior Court judge will hear evidence regarding City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s requested injunction against the Oakdale Mob, which claims as its turf the four square blocks around Oakdale Avenue and Baldwin Court. The gang has been linked to murders, assaults, drug dealing, rapes, carjackings and robberies. Residents of the neighborhood live in fear for their safety and that of their families, police say.

Herrera’s office, which normally handles civil, not criminal law, is charged with nuisance abatement. In a move unprecedented in San Francisco, he is asking a civil judge to issue a court order deeming the gang members a public nuisance and preventing them from participating in 11 specific activities such as loitering, publicly associating and breaking a 10 p.m. curfew within the four-square-block “safe zone.”

Civil gang injunctions have been used to combat gang presence in neighborhoods in Southern California and elsewhere since the 1980s. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Morales v. Chicago, struck down a civil gang injunction in Chicago on the grounds that it was too vague. That injunction prohibited loitering and defined it as, “to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose.”

The injunction sought by Herrera also would prohibit loitering, but it specifies, “loitering with the intent to commit a narcotics-related offense.” However, Herrera’s injunction also includes an order for gang members not to associate publicly, except in church or school, which University of California at Hastings constitutional law professor Rory Little said might not pass constitutional muster.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the judge decided to enter portions of this injunction and not other portions,” Little said. He said that if a judge finds parts of the injunction to be too vague, the judge might tailor the language to be more specific, or leave out parts that might be found unconstitutional.

“What the ACLU’s going to argue is that that doesn’t give adequate notice to those people, suppose those associates include their mothers?” Evan Lee, a Hastings criminal law professor, said Monday. “Suppose one of those mothers goes down to the complex for a PTA meeting, she could get picked up for that order.”

In the end, Lee said, the injunction’s constitutionality will be determined by the limits it places on the discretion of police. The less “carte blanche” police appear to have to make arrests, the less likely the possibility for civil rights to be violated and therefore the more constitutional the injunction will be seen as, Lee said.

Court order is key enforcement tool

While the civil injunction being sought against a local street gang is the first of its kind in San Francisco, such injunctions have been used as a gang-suppression tool for the last two decades in at least eight states.

Proponents and opponents of the civil injunction The City is seeking against the Oakdale Mob gang both referred to the same two studies to strengthen their arguments. The studies both found that injunctions appeared to reduce violent crime and intimidation in the short term, about a year after they were imposed, but the effects appeared to dissipate.

Civil gang injunctions have been used since the 1980s, primarily in Southern California, as a way to give police more power of enforcement over gang members. While the court orders that make up the injunctions differ, they often identify such activities as graffiti, drug dealing, loitering and intimidation as precursors to gang violence.

A civil gang injunction in 2002 in the neighborhood of Verdugo Flats in San Bernardino was the subject of a joint 2005 study by scholars at the University of California at Irvine and the University of Southern California. That study found that, while residents reported fewer instances of intimidation or confrontation with gang members in the short term, the only medium- and long-term effect of the injunction was a reduced fear of crime.

Long-term outcomes such as social cohesion, willingness to call police if a gang member threatens and a general trust in police did not appear to stem from the injunction, according to the study. The study’s authors recommended that civil gang injunctions be coupled with “efforts to improve neighborhood social organization and provide alternatives for gang members” in order to improve the effectiveness of the injunction.

Another study, done by policy analyst Jeffrey Crogger at the University of California at Los Angeles in 2000, examined 14 injunctions imposed in Southern California between 1993 and 1998. Crogger found that instances of violent crime, especially assault, fell by about 5 percent to 10 percent on average following the imposition of civil injunctions.

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