Police Chief Cam Sanchez announced on Tuesday that the City of Santa Barbara is instituting a gang injunction targeting 30 individuals from the Westside and Eastside with the possibility of future additions. The injunction prohibits these individuals from engaging in the following activities within proposed safety zones around the city: associating with other gang members, possessing firearms or other dangerous weapons, using drugs and alcohol, trespassing, having graffiti tools, and recruiting.
The safety zones include many of the city’s parks and much of the area immediately to the east and west of State Street from Las Positas Road through downtown. A separate zone along the waterfront from Mesa Lane to the bird sanctuary would be in effect during Fiesta and the Fourth of July. Sanchez said that although the injunction would result in arrests, its goal is to enhance public safety and not to round up gang members. District Attorney Joyce Dudley claimed officials had sought the injunction largely to curb the ability of gang leaders to recruit. Sanchez added that these individuals compete directly with intervention programs like the Police Activity League, suggesting that the purpose of the injunction was not to replace prevention with enforcement.
J. P. Herrada, head of gang intervention nonprofit Palabra, started receiving phone calls around 7 a.m. on Tuesday informing him that the SBPD had begun serving gang injunction papers. He said that police searched the homes of several of the people on whom they served papers.
The gang injunction does not yet have the force of law. City officials hope that a judge grants a temporary injunction within the next four to six months which they would then seek to make permanent. Sanchez, who has in the past resisted calls for an injunction, said more than once that his change of position is “incident driven,” noting that recent acts of violence have been committed against “non-gang members.” He did point out that gang members deserve to be protected from violent crime as well. “No one high-fives or celebrates because you have a conviction,” he said, because at the end of the day, there is still a victim.
Mayor Helene Schneider also took a moment to explain her change of heart at the press conference. “For many years I heard the term gang injunction and was very skeptical.” She said that she has since learned that injunctions can take many forms and compared the one Santa Barbara is pursuing to a restraining order. Individuals named in the injunction would have the choice of renouncing their gang affiliation, abiding by the injunction, or going to jail, Schneider said. The first choice, referred to as the “opt-out” option, would require a court appearance or an administrative process.
Although the law enforcement community has figured out a mechanism for establishing who is a gang member (and how they can renounce their membership), it is difficult to establish how many individuals are in fact involved in gangs. Herrada said that many young people who are charged with a crime must sign statements admitting gang membership in order to qualify for plea deals.
Osiris Castaneda, founder and codirector of Youth CineMedia, said that some gang members who have signed such statements in the past may have since turned their lives around. He has taught individuals named in the injunction. Two of them accompanied him to the press conference. One, a 20-year-old man, claimed that his inclusion was due to a violent crime that he committed when he was 15 years old. He served time and claims to have been a law-abider for the past three years. Opponents of the injunction also believe that it targets Latinos. Sanchez, however, took umbrage at such insinuations. “The real catalyst for this [injunction] was the communities where they congregate,” he said. He also pointed out that the victims of gang violence are over 90 percent Latino.
Five community organizations — Ystrive, Youth Cinemedia, Movimiento Esperanza, Palabra, and PUEBLO — released a joint statement in which they argued that the injunction would not work, nor was it necessary since gang-related crime dropped 10 percent last year. They also felt that the public was cut out of the decision-making process that led to the injunction, which will greatly limit the movements of targeted individuals. One of the individuals targeted in the injunction who attended the press conference with his young children said afterward, “I’m not going to be able to take my kids to the park.”