By Nick Diamantides
A recently issued court injunction now makes it possible for the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) to arrest certain gang members in North Long Beach for simply demonstrating their gang affiliation publicly. On Monday afternoon, city officials had a press conference at the downtown LBPD headquarters to publicize the injunction and outline some of its terms.
The conference began with comments from Mayor Bob Foster, who praised the LBPD and City Prosecutor’s Office for the hard work they put into obtaining the injunction. “We expect, and people deserve and demand, that they can walk around Long Beach, that they can work, play, visit our parks, go to work, go to school without fear of being victimized by one of the most violent and notorious criminal street gangs in this area,” the mayor said. “We will not tolerate criminals who target innocent people.”
Expanding on Foster’s comments, Police Chief Jim McDonnell explained that gang activity in the city is far more organized and complex than most people realize. He noted that a gang known as the Sureños acts as an umbrella group linking most Hispanic gangs in Southern California to the Mexican Mafia. McDonnell noted that while the Sureño name is not familiar to most citizens, their criminal activity is– including murder and the distribution of illegal drugs and firearms, among other crimes.
A gang injunction is a court order that typically names specific members of a particular gang, restricting their activities to a specific area known as a safety zone. The injunction makes it a misdemeanor offense for a gang member named in that injunction to associate in public with other known gang members and sets a curfew for those named gang members. It also increases the potential for a gang member to be charged with other crimes, resulting in longer prison sentences.
McDonnell noted that the new injunction specifically targets members of two gangs, North Side Longo and Sureño, but it has a broader approach than most other injunctions because it takes into account the organized and hierarchal nature of Hispanic gangs. He explained that, if compared to a corporation, the Mexican Mafia would be the board of directors and the Sureños would be the employees that conduct the day-to-day activities. “This injunction targets Sureños committing crimes in the North Long Beach area, focusing on Hispanic gangs from all over Southern California, not just Long Beach-based gangs,” McDonnell said. “Members of some of the most violent and organized gangs from throughout LA County have been served on this injunction. Local Long Beach gang members, particularly from North Side Longo, are also targeted.”
He noted that the North Side Longo and Sureño Gang Injunction was signed on Sept. 16 of this year in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but the work on the injunction began in 2008 after an increase in gang-related crime in the safety zone. “These crimes range from graffiti to hate crimes to narcotic sales, robberies, shootings and murders,” he said.
McDonnell said that he and city officials believe the injunction is the first of its kind and on the cutting edge of gang suppression. “There are 107 gang members named, 53 have been served already with 54 pending service,” he said. “Nineteen of those are already in state prison.” He added that more gang members will be added to the list as the LBPD obtains documented evidence proving their gang membership.
The chief noted that the gang injunction has resulted in two arrests so far. “We are determined to ensure the safety of the people of this city and particularly the residents of the community within the safety zone,” McDonnell said. “This is another tool that our department can use to combat crime and ensure that the community can feel safe from people who have a lifestyle of preying on others.
City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, who spoke next, explained that this is the fourth gang injunction obtained by the city and perhaps the most significant one because it names the Sureños, a growing criminal organization that encompasses some of the most violent gangs in the region.
Haubert told the audience that while violent and other serious crimes are not commonplace in Long Beach, gang criminal nuisance activities occur all too frequently in the city. These include graffiti, drinking in public, breaking into abandoned buildings, loitering in public places and intimidating the public. “Members of these gangs want to terrorize the neighborhoods and commercial districts where they operate,” he said. “They congregate outside schools, in parks, in alleyways and storefronts, trying to claim these areas as gang territories.”
Haubert noted that gang injunctions have been repeatedly upheld by the courts because they target activity directly associated with criminal conduct or activity that amounts to a public nuisance.
Haubert explained that a violation of any term of the injunction can result in a misdemeanor prosecution and a six-month sentence in Los Angeles County Jail and up to a $1,000 fine. He noted that, under the terms of the injunction, served gang members: may not possess an open container of alcohol while in public view; may not possess, sell or be under the influence of illegal drugs or be in the presence of someone who is; may not possess any deadly weapon, discharge a firearm or remain in the presence of someone who does; may not engage in graffiti activities or possess spray paint or other graffiti marking tools; may not obstruct the passage of a person or vehicle on a public right-of-way; may not loiter or display gang signs or flash gang symbols in public places.
“North Long Beach belongs to the hard-working men and women who call it home,” Haubert said. “It belongs to the business owners whose investments are helping revitalize North Long Beach. It does not belong to gang members, and by our action today we are doing everything in our power to make sure it never does.”
The area of the injunction’s safety zone runs north from Del Amo Boulevard and extends to the northern, eastern and western boundaries of Long Beach.