The Democratic Central Committee voted overwhelmingly last week to oppose the gang injunction proposed last March by Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez. The vote came at the instigation of Latino rights activists affiliated with the new organization PODER, who argued the injunction wasn’t warranted by existing crime rates and that the money spent on the injunction would be more effectively spent on prevention programs instead. Likewise, the group — a coalition of students affiliated with City College, UCSB, and Santa Barbara High School — argued the injunction would have a negative impact on property values in affected neighborhoods and further stigmatize Latino youth. “Let’s spend money on programs that help kids, not label them,” argued Cesar Trujillo.
About 17 members of the Democratic Central Committee (DCC) voted to oppose the injunction, a handful abstained, and a couple voted against taking action. Longtime Democratic Party activist Bob Handy — and former Fire and Police Commission member — argued the committee should have heard from gang injunction supporters before voting. Committtee executive Daraka Larimore-Hall said the issues behind the gang injunction were hardly new, adding, “We’re a political party, not a debating society.” Larimore-Hall and other critics of the gang injunction expressed concern such a major policy direction was adopted without any public hearing by the Santa Barbara City Council.
To date, the City Council has reportedly not voted on the matter but has been briefed on several occasions in closed-door hearings. Councilmember Cathy Murillo, an opponent of the injunction, acknowledged she participated in one such meeting but declined to provide any details of what was said — and by whom — because of confidentiality concerns. While Murillo lauded the arguments made by PODER activists, she expressed skepticism the injunction could be reversed. “That train left the station,” she said.
Last week’s vote will cause further friction between the DCC and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a Democrat, who appeared at the press conference with Police Chief Sanchez when he first announced he would file civil legal action against 30 of the “worst of the worst” gang members, limiting their ability to associate with one another in public. Sanchez, who had opposed gang injunctions for years, switched positions just months after two high-profile homicides took place in 2010 in which non-gang members were killed by gang members.
Though not available for comment this week, Sanchez has taken issue with the argument that the injunction promotes ethnic profiling. The Latino community, he’s insisted, has been disproportionately victimized by gang activity. And though filed early last year, the gang injunction has been held up in a variety of court actions. At issue is whether proponents of the injunction can avail themselves to otherwise confidential juvenile records that prosecutors insist are needed to make the injunction’s case. A case management conference is scheduled this January. In the meantime, PODER intends to take its case to the Latino Democrats, the ACLU, and the Women’s Political Committee.
According to police records, gang incidents and gang-related crime dropped in the past year. Reports of “gang related” events dropped from 259 this time last year to 179 for the first 10 months of 2012. The number of “gang incidents” — defined as offenses designed to further a street gang — dropped from 153 to 118 in the same time. Only the number of taggings increased, from 734 to 956. Not all tagging, however, can be tied to gangs. According to FBI statistics on Type I crime, the number of violent offenses related to Santa Barbara gangs dropped from 34 to 28 in the past year and gang-related property crime from 15 to 10.