Two years after Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez first unveiled his proposal for a gang injunction, the Santa Barbara City Council finally held its first public discussion — however partial, accidental, and indirect — of what’s becoming an increasingly contentious issue. The gang injunction was initially broached during the public comment period; several activists with the organization PODER objected that the council had never held a public hearing on the proposal. It came up again after Sanchez gave his regularly scheduled monthly address to the City Council; another member of PODER argued that the council would do better to invest more in gang prevention and intervention programs than in an injunction.
While the back-and-forth was far from thorough, Sanchez highlighted the number of youth sports and recreation programs offered by the Police Department. “We do not need more programs,” he insisted. “It comes down to choices; we can’t force these young people to go to these programs.” One activist challenged the chief to explain what the injunction would allow police officers to do that they can’t do already. Sanchez left that question to City Attorney Steve Wiley to answer but elaborated that Spanish-speaking parents have complained that police are not doing enough to keep their children safe from gang recruitment and that “100 percent of the crimes” committed by gang members are committed against Latinos. “What do you want me to do?” he demanded. Wiley added that the injunction targets 30 adult members of rival neighborhood gangs, bars them from associating with one another in public, and prohibits them from attending the Fiesta parade or going to the beach on the Fourth of July, flash points for gang confrontations.
Wiley expressed frustration with the slow pace of the gang injunction court proceedings, explaining that Judge Thomas Adams just delayed a long-awaited ruling on the admissibility of juvenile criminal records. Adams has delayed issuing his ruling for six months to date, Wiley said, and this Tuesday he announced he would delay it a month longer. Whatever the outcome, Wiley predicted it would all but certainly be appealed, a process that he said will last another two years. Councilmember Grant House urged the chief to respond to some of the questions raised by the injunction skeptics but did not weigh in on the merits. Councilmember Cathy Murillo — the injunction’s sole opponent on the council — expressed frustration that the council had not held public hearings on so important an issue and demanded a regular accounting on how much public money has been spent on pursuing the injunction’s implementation. “This is a lot of public money, and what are we getting for it?” she asked.