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San Diego Gang Commission Recommends Ending Controversial Gang Injunctions

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Last week, the San Diego Commission on Gang Prevention passed a resolution that asks the City Council to immediately release any San Diego residents from decades-old gang injunctions.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 For two decades. Law enforcement in San Diego have used a tool called a gang injunction to limit the activities and travel of people they believe to be members of gangs, but critics have questioned their effectiveness and fairness. Now the San Diego Commission on gang prevention and intervention has recommended an end to all gang injunctions in the city following the lead of cities like Los Angeles and Oakland KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler has been covering this story and joins us with more Max, thanks for being here. Thank you. Take us back to 1997 when they first started issuing these injunctions. What was happening and how were these injunctions supposed to help?

Speaker 2: 00:38 The injunctions are part of a larger nationwide trend to really crack down on what law enforcement perceived as gang criminal activity. Crime had been rising steadily since the 1970s and especially in cities like San Diego. You were seeing higher violent crime rates, so they were kind of looking at every tool in their toolbox as it were to stop people from being able to associate with other individuals that they believed were members of gangs. This was also part of a larger nationwide, um, focus and possible hysteria on gangs because, uh, one didn't necessarily correlate to another when it came to violent crime.

Speaker 1: 01:18 So the gang injunctions kept people out of certain neighborhoods. What else did they do?

Speaker 2: 01:23 So the rules are you are confined to a certain area that you are not allowed to associate with people in certain areas. So you have instances where people were unable to go to maybe their cousin's birthday party because they would be associating with people in a specific area. A, you're not allowed to where quote unquote, where gained clothes. So that's again, up to law enforcement decide what our clothes, whether there's certain colors like that. Uh, if you're a juvenile, you had to abide by a certain curfew. Uh, you couldn't make loud noises. So it was really all of these behaviors that they considered to be somehow associating you with gang activity, even though we know that a lot of those things are just part of daily life.

Speaker 1: 02:04 So how did they identify people to put on the gang injunction list?

Speaker 2: 02:08 So the injunctions were part of these kind of long indictments where they would list um, you know, 20 to 30 to 40. Even sometimes you know well into the dozens of people and saying all of these people belong to the specific gang. We're going to point you to their criminal activity and for the duration of this injunction, which we will give no end date to, they will not be able to associate with one another. This is our way of breaking up the gangs. And if they were to defy this injunction, well they could face jail time, they could face a civil penalty, a things like that. So it was their way of trying to break apart what were either gangs or social networks.

Speaker 1: 02:49 Here we are more than 20 years later. Did that actually help

Speaker 2: 02:52 the effectiveness of the gang injunctions is arguable. We don't know. We don't know whether there's any correlation between the gang led to a decrease in crime. We know that over the past 20 years in the United States that crime has plummeted and that San Diego just last year was deemed the safest big city in America. When it comes to violent crime, it also had the lowest murder rate of the country's 10 largest cities. So it's really tough to actually tie law enforcement activities to correlate with these actual global trends that are, um, violent crime is just rapidly decreasing. It's unclear whether they were effective, but what we do know is that they were incredibly effective at limiting what these people could do or who they could associate with.

Speaker 1: 03:38 So the San Diego Commission on gang prevention and intervention passed a resolution to end all gang injunctions in the city. What led to that decision

Speaker 2: 03:46 for a few years now, members of the commission have been questioning the effectiveness of these gang injunctions, especially now that for the most part, they are 15 years old, especially in the city of San Diego. So these are impacting individuals who are in their late thirties, early forties, especially if you know they were, were teenagers when these injunctions came down, just from a pure sociology standpoint, they've aged out of committing violent crimes if they were in the first place. And you bought a clip with you about this, right? Yeah. So this is a Genevieve Jones, right? She's a commissioner on the commission who brought the motion that led to the recommendation here was her explanation of gang injunctions inadequacies.

Speaker 3: 04:26 They haven't used gang injunctions for a very long time and our gang membership is down, gang crime is down and violent crime is down. And so there is no point to having gang injunctions on the books that only serve to harass people, to keep people from certain neighborhoods and being with their families and also in some cases from having good employment and housing.

Speaker 1: 04:53 Genevieve Jones, right ran for district attorney. Summer. Stephan won that last election. But Max, I want to know from you how many people are under gang injunctions in San Diego. So as of yet

Speaker 2: 05:03 18 and the city of San Diego in the county of San Diego, there was 788 people. The district attorney has been slowly removing people from that list. They've been arguing a much slower approach. So there have been 332 people were removed earlier this year from the list. That's county wide. Uh, we don't really have a, a number of how many people have been removed in the city of San Diego, which is what the commission and the city council has jurisdiction over. But the number remains in the hundreds. And again, these are people who have been living under these injunctions for well over a decade.

Speaker 1: 05:36 What's the demographic of the gang injunction list?

Speaker 2: 05:39 So the foreign junctions in the city of San Diego are centered on southeast San Diego as well as Linda Vista going down the names overwhelmingly, if not exclusively. These are black and Latino individuals who are placed on the list.

Speaker 1: 05:53 How much of the population in San Diego does that demographic?

Speaker 2: 05:57 San Diego is around 30% Hispanic, Latino, and around 6% black. So obviously a large disparity there.

Speaker 1: 06:05 You saying the last 15 years there haven't been any more gang injunctions issued. How has that impacted gang activity? Has San Diego seen a rise or fall and gang crime within that time period?

Speaker 2: 06:16 Right. So the, there has not been a gang injunction in the city of San Diego over the past 15 years. And again, all of the, uh, criminal statistics that San Diego keeps show a marked decrease in violent crime, um, and, and gang activities is way down. There are less last year, less identified gang members this year as there were last year. And that's been trending down for, for well over a decade.

Speaker 1: 06:41 And what has district attorney Summer Stephan said about the commission's recommendation

Speaker 2: 06:45 cause she voted against it and that sh because she's also a member of the commission, but that she's going to stick with the review on a case by case basis. Her office said in a, uh, emailed KPBS and said that 97 people on the list had been arrested between September, 2017 and September, 2018. But arresting somebody who doesn't really note the severity of it, especially because these are areas that do face, um, disproportionate policing. We know that they are focused in these areas. And so what happens next? So the San Diego Commission on gang prevention and intervention clearly makes recommendations. They don't have the authority to actually unilaterally take action on this. A, all of the recommendations goes to, um, the public safety. And Livable neighborhoods committee, which is chaired by Monica Montgomery at the city council. Her office told us that the recommendation has not been docketed yet, but they expect to hear from the commission this fall and that will most likely be brought up then and then it will be up to council woman, Montgomery and other members of the city council on whether to take action or not.

Speaker 1: 07:52 All right. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler. Max, thanks for joining us. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.