In opening remarks supporting Santa Barbara’s proposed gang injunction, Tom Shapiro with the City Attorney’s Office called the trial a “day of reckoning for Santa Barbara’s two criminal street gangs.”
Their aim is to prove the gangs have terrorized the city and its residents through the collective actions of their members.
Shapiro, an assistant city attorney, said the trial will also show that traditional law enforcement methods aren’t effective to combat nuisance activity, but injunctions are effective.
“This is about real relief,” Shapiro said. “This is about having a family that can go to the park and have a picnic, and not be intimidated by a number of rough, tough thugs.”
If granted by Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne, the injunction would prohibit the gangs and the individual members from certain activities in specified “safety zones” that include the entire Eastside, Westside and downtown neighborhoods, and most of the city’s parks, even those outside the zones.
There are also restrictions for the waterfront and beach areas of town during the Fourth of July and Old Spanish Days week.
The city plans to add more people to the list over time, even though there are only 11 named defendants at the time of trial.
The do-not-associate provision is the crux of the injunction, which stops the gangs and named defendants from associating in public inside the safety zones, Shapiro said.
Many of the other conditions are already illegal activities, but some are otherwise lawful, everyday activities involving where they can be and what they can wear.
This is a major point of contention for the defense, which includes many attorneys representing named defendants and opposing the gang injunction in general.
Plaintiffs are calling the injunction just another tool in the law enforcement toolbox, defense attorney Tara Haaland-Ford said.
However, crime rates are dropping, and there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove the gang nuisance is ongoing, she argued in her opening remarks.
“The toolbox is full, the toolbox is in working order, and these are extraordinary measures not needed in Santa Barbara,” she said.
Injunctions should only be used as a last resort because they prohibit commonplace, lawful activities and put parole-level conditions on everyday life, she argued.
“They would not even be allowed to head down to the waterfront with their children and family on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks.”
While the plaintiffs are calling law enforcement officers and a gang injunction expert witness from Fresno County, the defense will be calling UCSB professor Edwina Barvosa, a social scientist who has studied injunctions, and community members who live, work and socialize in the proposed safety zones.
They’ll testify about a lack of gang activity and nuisance, Haaland-Ford said.
People in the community do not feel under siege by gangs, and they’re not creating an “intolerable invasion” of these neighborhoods, she said.
The defense also argued that the injunction won’t be a deterrent – violators would be charged with contempt in civil court – and could lead to a “suppressive backfire” making things worse.
Shapiro called Santa Barbara police Sgt. Dave Henderson as the first witness to talk about the data-mining project that led police to pursue a gang injunction.
Henderson, a 22-year-veteran of the department, was assigned to a team with street gang unit Officer Brian Miller, Detective Gary Siegel, two part-time detectives and two crime analysis employees. They worked on the project from June 2009 to January 2010.
They researched whether an injunction would be effective as a preventative tool, and knew “very little” when they started, Henderson testified.
To make a visual representation of gang incidents and crime, his team ultimately came up with a series of maps. They conducted interviews with 30 current and former gang officers and detectives, and came up with a list of 537 gang members and then went through the records system to find reports mentioning those people.
They found that arrest reports and gang-related criminal charges peaked in 2007, and were more highly-concentrated in the same pockets of the city over time, Henderson testified. That led to the safety zone recommendations.
There were several layers of checking to avoid duplication, and then records and information technology staff members made the maps showing Eastside-related and Westside-related offenses from 2004 to 2009, Henderson testified.
The maps are dotted with offenses all over the city, but concentrated on Westside, downtown and Eastside neighborhoods.
The “offenses” aren’t all arrests, some are just mentions of people in police reports. As a result, the dots on the maps range from homicides all the way down to violating curfew.
The defense says the methodology is flawed and police included people whether they were the reporting party, witness, victim or suspect, with no differentiation in the data.
Police also don’t separate the more-violent Part 1 crimes from Part 2 crimes with gang offenses, so it’s unclear how many are low-level nuisance crimes and how many are more serious, Haaland-Ford said in her opening remarks.
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.