Gang Bans--Be Careful How You Do It

Two years ago the City of San Fernando passed a controversial one-year ban on street gangs in Las Palmas Park after a mother and her children were shot there. Though still under constitutional challenge in the courts by civil libertarians, who are concerned about its larger implications, the ordinance attracted wide support--and was judged successful in curbing violence in the park.

Alas, that ban has led to additional, less focused anti-gang efforts elsewhere. Perhaps the most misconceived is a measure now before the Los Angeles City Council that would outlaw gangs in all of the city's open-space areas.

This proposal would ban gang members who commit two or more serious crimes from any city park, beach or playground. Violators could face a fine and jail time. However, for the ban to apply to a person, police would be required to demonstrate that the individual came to an area with criminal intent.

That requirement has many police officers scratching their heads. How does a police officer go about even identifying all gang members, much less proving their intent in advance? LAPD Cmdr. John White, testifying before the council, suggested that this is "virtually impossible."

The council is scheduled to review the issue today. Their concern about gangs is commendable. But council members would be best advised to steer clear of sweeping, unworkable prohibitions and instead target specific areas with carefully drawn ordinances, backing them up by committing extra police.

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