According National District Attorney's Association (NDAA), the United States has 30,000 gangs with 800,000 members whose crimes, tactics, and strategies are getting more sophisticated each day. Communities and local law enforcement agencies are responding with new strategies as well—in this case, the use of civil injunctions to disrupt gang activities. John Wilkinson, an attorney and program manager for the Gun Violence and Homeland Security programs of the NDAA, says that using civil injunctions to disrupt gangs is not a cure all, but can be useful for communities that are serious about reducing the influence of gangs.
In a recent NCPC conference call, Mr. Wilkinson explained that an injunction is a court order to stop individuals, their associates, or an organization from preventing an individual or the general public from enjoying life and property. Civil injunctions previously were used to prevent harm to the community by a factory or business; however California began to take this new anti-gang approach with criminal street gangs because the law considers them identifiable associations (due to their “colors,” “signs,” or tattoos). The primary tool of the civil gang injunction is its ability to stop gang members from associating in a defined geographical area. For example, if a gang hangs out on the corner and a homeowner can’t sit on his or her nearby porch without being disturbed or intimidated, relief may come in the form of a civil injunction. Such civil injunctions are not aimed at recovering monies or compensation for lost enjoyment or happiness, but are aimed at disrupting the daily criminal activities of the gang and removing the gang’s ability to derive its strength from associating with other members. Additional civil injunction restrictions could result in curfews and prohibitions against weapons, drugs, alcohol, graffiti (or graffiti tools), forcible recruiting, or against efforts by gang leaders to keep members from leaving the gang.
It was noted during the discussion that in order to be targeted, the gang must be creating a public nuisance and be responsible for activities that are continuous and ongoing. Additionally, it is necessary to demonstrate a defined geographic area that is impacted by the gang and the selected gang must have identifiable members. When filing suit, notice of the suit must be provided to individual gang members. Attempts must be made to serve all members of the gang with the injunction; the injunction can only be enforced on members who have been served. To protect residents from retaliation by the gang, law enforcement agencies should request the injunction.
Using these tools, police and communities are reclaiming neighborhoods, reducing crime, and restoring peace. Here’s a resource to help from the NDAA website. Mr. Wilkinson has additional information and technical assistance to help your community pursue civil injunctions against gangs. He can be reached at John.Wilkinson@ndaa.org.