After a rash of gang-related murders over the past few years, Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez is considering the possibility of instituting a gang injunction. A controversial measure that prohibits gang members from congregating in areas known for gang activity, some decry the use of such injunctions, asserting that they cause racial profiling and discrimination, among other problems.
“It’s sort of like a restraining order,” Sanchez told Noozhawk, explaining that if a gang member, or group, is seen in an area specified by the injunction, that person or persons is issued a written warning that may escalate into legal action should the injunction again be violated.
“You identify gangs who have committed crimes in a certain area on a regular basis,” he said. “Basically, it keeps gang members from hanging out in certain areas.”
Sanchez said that although the idea was introduced to him nearly nine years ago, he had just come on board with the city of Santa Barbara and had not been able to tackle the issue then, quickly becoming involved with other efforts. Now, he said he has given the order for city officials to begin studying the feasibility of an injunction. The study would analyze the histories of certain areas, gang member information and crime statistics to determine where injunctions need to be applied.
“This is not something that can erase gang crime,” he said, “but it can help people feel safe in areas where they haven’t felt safe.”
The issue has garnered increased attention in the wake of several high-profile gang-related incidents, including a brazen April 15 slaying at popular Arroyo Burro Beach with several hundred people in the vicinity. Adrian Robles, 20, of Santa Barbara, is to be arraigned Tuesday on murder charges with several enhancements that could make him eligible for the death penalty. Robles is said to be a known gang member.
Before he was elected Santa Barbara County’s sheriff, then-Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown introducted a gang injunction in Lompoc, where Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley said it has been very effective. Six weeks ago, Dudley visited areas of the city — including near Lompoc High School — where gangs used to hang out, and reported seeing nobody around.
“When gang injunctions are done well — they’re well-written, precise, even-handed and specifically responsive to a situation — then I think they work,” Dudley said. “I’ve seen that in Lompoc.”
Both Sanchez and Dudley asserted that for an injunction to best fit the needs of any given locale, officials must work closely with members of the community to ensure they come up with something everyone can live with.
Many people disagree with the approach an injunction embodies, expressing concern that it would cause discriminatory behavior by authorities. About 30 members of PADRES — Parents Against Discrimination, Racism and Extreme Sentencing — assembled at the Courthouse on Thursday afternoon to protest Sanchez’s consideration of the injunction.
“I find it disturbing,” said South Coast resident and PADRES activist Patrick Gregston, opining that gang members — particularly younger ones — often become more involved in gang culture while incarcerated. “There’s no justice in the short-cutting process. There’s a reason why there’s a juvenile justice system. People don’t realize what’s taken away when someone is tried as an adult.”
But Dudley maintains that by keeping gang members from assembling, they become less visible to younger children who might be influenced by them.
“There aren’t as many gang guys hanging around, so kids don’t see it and think it’s cool,” she said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.