Who decide’s who’s in a gang?

July 6, 2011

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Last month, a judge approved an injunction against members of the “Broderick Boys” in West Sacramento. The injunction was championed by the office of Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, with the approval of the city’s police and elected officials.

The injunction restricts the activities of validated gang members inside much of the city’s north area – in some cases, preventing these citizens from doing things that would otherwise be Constitutionally-protected activities — for instance, associating in public with individuals of their own choice.

For instance, gang members are prohibited from being on public property or in an establishment open to the public between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night (with some exceptions, such as attendance at a church or school event, or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting). They also can’t associate with other gang members in public (with some exceptions). And they face enhanced penalties for some crimes.

The injunction is against “validated” gang members – but who decides who is and isn’t a gang member? Some citizens have expressed concern that the injunction will be used to target Latinos, since the Broderick Boys are a Latino-affiliated gang. They’ve worried that police and the D.A.’s office will be too quick to add people to the list and cover them by the rules of the seven-year injunction.

The News-Ledger asked Jonathan Raven, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney, to explain how people get onto that list, and how they can get off it. Raven responded in a pair of emails.

“The determination of gang membership is a multi-tiered process made by the police department, in which validation factors are reported from patrol officers, they are gathered by the gang unit and reviewed by an expert,” said Raven. “The expert’s determination that one meets sufficient validation criteria is then reviewed by the unit sergeant, and further reviewed by a lieutenant (I think) and ultimately signed off on by the chief or deputy chief.”

The criteria are spelled out in the actual injunction. They include the admission of gang membership, information from an informant, the presence of gang-related tattoos, or “being arrested while participating with active members of the Broderick Boys.” Such criteria are “factors” in determining if a person is a member of the Broderick Boys gang, according to the injunction.

Race isn’t mentioned as a criterion. A person’s clothing and personal associations are “relevant” but not enough to earn the label of a gang member.

Essentially, the decision is made by local police.

“Court action is not required,” he continued. “One can be removed from the Injunction Enforcement list by meeting certain criteria (being free from gang activity/crime for a period of three years).  Individual gang validations are purged after five years without further gang contacts.”

If a person believes they have wrongly been added to the list by the police, what can he or she do about it?

“The person must first contact the police department, which has initial authority to add or remove someone from the list,” Raven answered. “Next, the person may contact the District Attorney and ask for an independent review of the police department’s decision. Finally, the person may file a motion in Yolo Superior Court asking the court to order them removed from the list.”

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