Recently there has been much renewed public interest in Santa Barbara relating to the gang injunction. Several City Councilmembers have written editorials reflecting their support of or opposition to the injunction, the local Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion and the Santa Barbara Realtors Association publicly voted to oppose its implementation. When I wrote my first op-ed on the issue, I warned against arguments that relied heavily on pathos and rhetoric to address the issue of at-risk youth in Santa Barbara.
First, I would like to start by saying that I have the highest respect for Mr. Frank Hotchkiss in his capacity as a member of the City Council. I would like to applaud the fact he has been willing to present his position in a public forum for discussion and clarification. For the most part the pro-injunction position has been defended by a minority group of Democrats and Sharon Byrne. Having the opportunity to respond to a conservative voice is a welcome change of pace. While Mr. Hotchkiss and I may agree on most approaches on policy, he and I fundamentally disagree on the gang injunction.
When Mr. Hotchkiss declares in “Why I Support the Civil Gang Injunction”: “I can think of 5,272 reasons to support the Civil Gang Injunction: That’s the number of children from fourth through eighth grade in our local public schools … susceptible to forcible gang recruitment”, it is easy to lose the fact that these are also 5,272 reasons to oppose the gang injunction. Often it has been said that the injunction is an attempt to gain new tools for police to address youth violence in Santa Barbara. It has also been said that when your favored tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail after a while.
The idea that the injunction will help “everyone” in the proposed “safety zones” is a nice thought, but thoughtful analysis questions the claim. The Realtors Association opposed the injunction, presumably because of the impact that declaring a large section of the city a perpetual nuisance would have on property values. The claim is that the injunction will only cover 30 individuals, around 26 of whom are either in jail serving a long sentence or have chosen to get a legitimate job, go to school, etc.
If the proposed “Civil Gang Injunction” (violation of which is a misdemeanor charge that can be added as an enhancement alone that could include incarceration) is only going to affect the behavior of four individuals, why is that something traditional policing cannot solve? On March 18, 2014, Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez repeatedly praised the vigilance and hard work of his officers as being a key reason why crime rates have steadily been on the decline. He also explained that the concern of “aggressive panhandlers on State Street” has become the new biggest issue for the city to focus on.
Of course, considering the gang injunction has not been implemented, some found it rather strange that Sanchez has chosen to take a knee at the end of the game. On May 5, the Honorable Judge Colleen Sterne will determine the necessity of implementing an injunction in Santa Barbara. Taking the constitutional questions to the side, which I have and continue to voice, one should question if the environment in Santa Barbara rises to the need for an injunction. If it does rise to an “urban warzone,” as described in controlling case law (Acuna, 1997), is there no city in California that will be spared the need for an injunction in one form or another?
To the point Mr. Hotchkiss raises that “Sixteen people have been killed since the early 1990s in gang-related killings. Some weren’t even gang members but innocent bystanders,” it is important not to minimize this loss of life. Of course, even one unnecessary death is a tragic loss, but we also need to caution against implementing draconian policies in a knee-jerk reaction. Sixteen deaths over the course of 24 years hardly seems to rise to the definition of a “urban warzone” in which people are being robbed, murdered, extorted, and more on a regular basis in 30-40 percent of the city. If traditional tactics have been as effective as Chief Sanchez claims, one would think we could continue to do great things with our youth without wasting resources on the injunction.
I disagree that approval of the injunction will send a clear message except one that the city is willing to sacrifice millions of dollars to further a policy that has had much public opposition. My favorite statement Mr. Hotchkiss makes is that “in fact the city hasn’t budgeted one extra dollar to this effort. Time and effort spent are part of the daily tasks of police and the city attorney.” Is the idea that if there were no gang injunction, the police and city attorney would not have anything else to work on? To the contrary, had the police and city attorney not had to focus on the gang injunction, which I believe will ultimately fail on appeal if not on its merits, crime may have been reduced beyond the 30 percent reported.
Typically, the Republican Party prides itself on being champions of limited government and fiscal responsibility. Specifically, santabarbaragop.org explains, “Republicans believe in freedom, that free people are those who take personal responsibility for their affairs and are therefore capable and productive enough to provide for themselves and family minus government interference.” I tend to agree with this statement and believe that asking the government to interfere in otherwise constitutionally protected behavior, like appearing in public, does not adhere to this principle. Finally, the website explains, “Republicans, like most of us, believe people are mostly sensible about their lives while Democrat leadership thinks people generally need government guidance in their personal affairs.”
We will continue to object not only to the proposed Gang Injunction but all policies that threaten liberty.