The City of Santa Barbara has filed a gang injunction complaint against 30 known gang-affiliated individuals within the city, Police Chief Cam Sanchez announced Tuesday.
He said the men and women are associated with the Eastside and Westside gangs, and all have documented histories of gang-related crime.
The goal is to ensure safety for all residents, not make arrests, Sanchez said, which is why the city’s limited approach would restrict the activities of only the named individuals in specified areas of the city.
Santa Barbara has been plagued by gang-on-gang violence — teenagers killing teenagers, Sanchez said — and in the past few years, gang members have been accused of committing crimes not only on one another, but on community members and businesses.
“This is just unacceptable — period,” Sanchez said.
The request for an injunction must be granted by a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge, and those named will have a chance to defend themselves and opt out if they can prove, for example, that they are no longer a member of the gang. City Attorney Steve Wiley said the process could take another six months, as the 30 people are now being served with their papers.
Implementing a gang injunction has been discussed for years, but Sanchez has always said publicly that the city wasn’t to that level — even as recently as last October, after 37-year-old George Ied was beaten to death while walking home from work on the Eastside.
He said the real catalyst and his change of heart came from hearing about community members being afraid to go to parks near their homes or to let their children be outside for fear of being harassed or recruited.
Youth Services supervisor Sgt. Noel Rivas has told Noozhawk that physical assaults are the most common gang crime in the city, followed by graffiti and stealing alcohol from local stores. Those usually involve fights with no weapon or a bat, stick or occasionally a knife. All gang-related homicides in the city have been stabbings. He also has said that Santa Barbara’s gangs are mainly territorial and not involved in organized crime like bigger-city gangs.
There have been qualms about gang injunctions stemming from concern that they’ll be used for racial profiling against young male Latinos, but Sanchez said it’s not a profiling tool. The injunction would help protect all members of the community, as more than 90 percent of gang crimes are committed against other Latinos, he said. It doesn’t target a specific gang or type of person, but 30 named individuals.
The 30 people — whose identities will be known once the court documents are unsealed Wednesday — have well-documented criminal histories, including being contacted at gang crime scenes, having gang tattoos and being convicted of gang-related crimes.
Sanchez said they’ve caused the most grief for the city in terms of felony crimes and recruiting.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who heads up the gang division, said the 30 people have admitted to membership in gangs or been legally determined to be gang members. Gang-related crime ranges from murder to auto theft for the benefit of a criminal street gang, he said.
There are a few women named among the group, but no juveniles. To add more people to the injunction, the city must file more documents and get them granted by a judge.
If the injunction is granted, the 30 people would not be allowed to associate with other gang members within “safety zones” mapped out by the Police Department, near schools or at city parks. The zones include large portions of the city’s Eastside, Westside, downtown and waterfront areas for Fourth of July and Fiesta events only.
Dozer said the named individuals would be allowed to move freely through the areas individually, but could not associate in groups of two or more gang members, have firearms or weapons, use drugs or alcohol, have graffiti tools or do graffiti, trespass, recruit or intimidate people in those zones.
Wiley said injunctions such as this are restraining orders of sorts, making some behaviors that would be allowable for law-abiding citizens a violation for these 30 people.
Police will continue aggressive patrols, prevention and intervention programs, gang officers and its youth services investigative unit in enforcing the injunction if it’s granted, Sanchez said. Police officers know the individuals well, but everyone would be trained in enforcing the injunction.
He said that piece will be critical in stopping the recruitment of the city’s children and giving the Police Department another tool in their holistic approach to dealing with gangs.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said her office is prepared to help the Police Department charge violators — who would be arrested on civil contempt charges — to help stop the initiation of violence and gangs’ ability to recruit the city’s children.
Mayor Helene Schneider said the Police Department has the full support of City Hall.
“Santa Barbara is a safe place, and this will make it even safer,” she said.
Sanchez briefly listed some of the Police Department’s successes in investigating gang crime and reducing gang violence, including 2009’s Operation Gator Roll in which gang members were arrested and convicted on state and federal RICO charges; the conviction of four men who murdered 16-year-old Lorenzo Carachure in 2007; and prevention and intervention programs.
In the past year, gang members have been arrested on charges of murdering two men with no gang affiliations of their own.
Four men were charged with murder with a gang enhancement for the murder of Ied, and a 20-year-old man is facing murder charges with special allegations and street terrorism in connection with the stabbing death of Robert Burke Simpson, a 44-year-old Mesa resident who was killed in April 2010 after an altercation with alleged gang members at Arroyo Burro Beach.
There were two assaults in February that police say were gang-related as well. In one incident, two men were beaten when they refused to give up their cell phone to a group of three men. In the other, a man was stabbed several times in Eastside Park after being approached by a driver who asked where he was from, to which he responded, “Nowhere.” One arrest was made in the former case, and none has been announced in the latter case.
The civil gang injunction complaint was sealed for 48 hours after being filed, but should be available for viewing Wednesday.