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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 1:34 am | Fair 47º

 
 
 
 

Lompoc’s Gang Injunction Could Serve as Model for Santa Barbara

Sheriff Bill Brown tells of his own success story with gang injunctions and says they're effective as one part of a 'multipronged approach'

While the idea of using a gang injunction to help Santa Barbara deal with its gang problem has been bandied about in the past, Police Chief Cam Sanchez announced last week that his department would examine the feasibility of such a measure.

Gang injunctions, which are essentially a restraining order prohibiting known gang members from congregating in certain areas, are often controversial, and some say they can have unintended effects.

As Sanchez gears up for a detailed study on whether to implement a gang injunction in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has his own story to tell on the subject.

Having served as chief of the Lompoc Police Department from 1995 until he was elected sheriff in 2007, Brown was at the helm when the department adopted its own gang injunction five years ago.

“We targeted an area that was in the south central part of town, and it was an area frequented by a gang that we had found was involved in criminal activity,” said Brown, adding that the process of creating a gang injunction that is appropriate for a community is a very involved process. By targeting specific areas and people known to have engaged in gang activity, he said Lompoc police had hoped to avoid generalizations that wouldn’t help solve the gang problem.

After the first year, Brown said gang activity decreased by 5 percent, and that Lompoc has seen a 10 percent per year reduction in gang activity each year since then.

“It’s not that gang members went away — the gang problem is deep-rooted and multigenerational — but we found (the gang injunction) to be an effective tool,” he said. “It’s not a silver bullet that will solve all gang problems, but it’s a good tool to use in conjunction with other strategies. It’s only one prong in a multipronged approach. You still have to have very stringent enforcement of the law.”

Brown said that once the injunction is put into effect, word spreads quickly. Relatively few arrests occurred as a result of Lompoc’s gang injunction, but gang members who already had criminal records faced receiving parole violations — which for some meant the possibility of incarceration.

There also were effects that nobody saw coming. Manuela Venegas, who has been working with at-risk youth at Lompoc High School for the past 20 years, grew up amid gang culture and is no stranger to how it works.

“I do like the gang injunction. What I don’t like is when it targets the older folks and the kids are left to make their own rules,” she said, adding that when older gang members with longer rap sheets end up back behind bars as a result of a gang injunction, it can take away the gang’s capacity for self-regulation.

“When we take the OGs off the street, the little ones take over. When they’re young, they’re more likely to do stupid things.”

The best way to deal with the problem, Venegas said — echoing Brown’s assertion that there’s no easy answer — is to spend a lot of time with at-risk youths.

“In working with gangs, you have to let them know that you’re there to work with them all of their lives,” she said. “Sometimes it just takes belief in a student.”

Venegas said some of the best programs Lompoc has for at-risk youths simply put kids in a closer, more positive relationship with police officers. Whether engaging in art projects to keep them from tagging or playing sports with the officers, she said communicating with police, teachers and other members of the community has been helpful for the kids with whom she works.

Noting that there isn’t always a lot for teenagers to do in Lompoc, Venegas said a program called Youth Making Change has allowed 12- to 18-year-olds who might otherwise be out tagging to develop creative skills through various art projects.

By staying involved with specific projects and talking to potential gang members, Venegas expressed hope in continuing to work with law enforcement in chipping away at an old and stubborn problem.

“There’s no magic answer, and it’s a long process,” Brown said. “It took a very long time to get into the gang situation, and we’re sure not going to get out of it overnight.”

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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