What is a gang injunction?
It’s a tool. Specifically, it’s an order of a court directing a party to perform a certain act or to refrain from an act or acts. It’s a civil law suit that alleges in the complaint that the gang and its members have occupied and used the specified target area in a manner that constitutes a public nuisance. If gang members have less time to spend together in public view, they will have fewer opportunities to commit crime. The increased police presence and added authority granted to the police through an injunction allows them to contact and arrest gangs members for injunction violations as opposed to having to wait for a more serious crime to occur.
Following are 10 steps to help you use this tool.
No. 1: Start with a motivated prosecutor who knows the law and how to obtain the order.
Not every prosecutor has the willingness, desire or knowledge required to obtain a gang injunction. That is due in part because gang injunctions involve a host of provisions from both the civil and penal code that involves some complex, labor-intensive issues. So it’s important to start with a prosecutor who has a solid understanding of all applicable areas of the law and, more importantly, has the organizational skills, patience and ability to prepare the order and follow the case to completion.
It’s also important to have a prosecutor who’s willing to work closely with the police to prepare the declarations from officers and the community. Prosecutors who lack the ability to communicate and work closely with others may not be the best candidates to assign to the task of obtaining a gang injunction.
No. 2: Accurately identify the nuisance activity or activities.
Since gang crime is mostly street crime, gang crime intelligence can help identify the required nuisance activity. Proper analysis of gang intelligence files can help officers identify a tremendous amount of useful information to help with the injunction, including information on specific gangs and gang members in the target areas; names of gang leaders; identification of particularly violent members; link analysis of who hangs out with whom and when; criminal history of the members; probation or parole status of members; anticipated release date and status update of members in custody; organizational structure; methods of operation; recruiting process; identifying signs (graffiti, tattoos, colors, etc.); the number and names of gangs and their subgroups operating in the target area; total number of members and associates; locations of hangouts; types and locations of gang-related crime; and the characteristics of victims in the area.
No. 3: Identify the defendants to be named or targeted by the injunction.
When starting a gang injunction, it’s important to select the proper defendants to be subjected to the order. The more gang members named in the order, the more time-consuming and labor intensive the preparation of the order will be. Regardless, it’s essential to the success of the injunction to include every problem individual in the targeted gang.
The gang expert and prosecutor should start by evaluating every known member of the gang for potential inclusion. Establish a list of the most problematic individuals. It’s critical that the primary investigator on the case have a comprehensive understanding of the entire gang (not just those who will end up in the injunction) so he can explain why specific members were included in, or subsequently served with, the injunction, and why others were not.
No. 4: Identify and describe the target area.
Selecting the correct target area is one of the most critical elements of the injunction because it is only applicable and enforceable in the specific area described in the order. One of the best ways to accomplish this is for officers to talk to members of the targeted gang as well as to their rivals. Many will tell you how far in one direction they can go before they have a problem (i.e., turf boundaries). That information can often be corroborated by the presence and nature of graffiti around the perimeter of the turf.
A good method to define the appropriate territory: Detectives start from what’s believed to be the center of the gang’s territory and follow the graffiti in every direction until it stops appearing. Having recent examples of graffiti around the perimeter of the safety zone is one of the best and most accurate methods to show the gang’s presence in the area and help prove their claim on the area.
No. 5: Collect evidence.
Most of the evidence presented to the court in gang injunction cases is in the form of written declarations from various sources that help prove the need for the court order. Evidence to support the inclusion of specific individuals in the injunction includes criminal history data and details of field interviews and other contacts. It doesn’t matter if the individual was the suspect, victim or witness to a gang crime; each incident can be used as further documentation of their affiliation with the targeted gang. Virtually every gang injunction also includes photographic evidence of gang members displaying hand signs, tattoos and weapons. More importantly, they show their affiliation with one another.
No. 6: Construct the complaint.
The prosecuting agency’s decision about how to construct the complaint will probably depend on strategy or, in some cases, the judicial jurisdiction that the county is in, including the appellate divisions.
In Los Angeles County, for example, the majority of gang injunctions name the gang as the sole defendant, or they name a representative sample of the gang’s membership in addition to the gang. In San Diego County, injunctions list each individual defendant who will be subjected to the injunction and might also list the gang as a defendant. Naming only the gang seems to offer law enforcement the most flexibility, takes less time to prepare, and lowers the cost of bringing the injunction.
No. 7: Obtain the order.
Once all of the declarations are completed and all of the evidence is collected, it is time for your prosecutor to present all of the evidence to the court and request the order be granted. The process of obtaining the order combines all of the prior steps and establishes the presence of a nuisance through the evidence. The order should be tailored to address the specific nuisance activity, but it can be wide-ranging in scope. Prohibited activities vary from injunction to injunction, but may limit association, alcohol, drug use, drug sales, no guns or weapons, no shooting of guns, no blocking of passage, no curfew violation, no gang colors, no gang signs, no tools that can be used for burglary and so on.
No. 8: Notify the defendants.
Once the order is obtained, notification must be made to each of the defendants who will be impacted and subjected to the terms and rules outlined in it. Each gang member who will be subjected to the conditions of the order must be served a copy of all court documents related to the case, which includes all of the evidence against them, with the exception of anything placed under seal by the court.
No. 9: Obtain the permanent injunction.
The case has to be presented in court and the permanent injunction needs to be obtained. This is the stage where the trial takes place and the defendants have the opportunity to contest their inclusion in the order, which further emphasizes the importance of having a well-prepared case that addresses all of the legal issues in order to enhance the chances of a successful outcome in court. Some injunctions go through the legal process with virtually no opposition; others are fought in lengthy trials. The police and prosecution must assume that a trial will be required and that each and every gang member will appear and contest their inclusion in the order. The case is as strong as the weakest link; one bad inclusion can damage everything.
No. 10: Enforce and maintain the order.
To enforce and maintain the order, police personnel must first be aware of its presence and conditions. The attorney can attend police lineup trainings to discuss the injunction with officers and describe how it was obtained, what it means for the police, what an injunction violation is, how to make an arrest for a violation, how to write the report, where to file it, and what outcome the prosecutors are seeking. Workshops sponsored by the state’s district attorney association or Department of Justice can educate officers about gang injunctions and encourage participation in the enforcement process.