D.C. Crime-Fighting Plan Expands Anti-Gang Tools
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty introduced an anti-crime proposal yesterday that would make it easier for prosecutors to detain people before trials and allow officials to seek civil injunctions that would bar gang members from specific neighborhoods or activities.
At a news conference in Congress Park, a violence-plagued neighborhood in Southeast Washington, Fenty (D) said the intent was to aggressively target violent crime and escalating gang activity by using "best practices" drawn from other cities, including Los Angeles, which has a major gang problem.
"This will give law enforcement more tools they need to fight crime," said Fenty, flanked by Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, D.C. Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles and Patricia Riley, special counsel to the U.S. attorney.
The proposal, written as a bill for the D.C. Council's consideration, comes as city officials are moving to change gun regulations in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that the city's longtime ban on handguns is unconstitutional. Last month, the council adopted emergency legislation to end storage requirements for firearms and permit ownership of semiautomatic handguns, and the Senate might consider legislation approved by the House that would abolish the city's gun laws.
Lanier said that although violent crime has decreased overall, police have been frustrated trying to stop the most serious offenders. The bill would double to two years the mandatory minimum sentence for a felony committed while possessing a gun and make the sentence at least five years for those already convicted of a violent crime.
Nickles cited the anti-gang provision as a "best practice" adopted after examination of similar laws in Los Angeles and other cities. Under the proposal, officials would have to identify three people acting together to prove they are part of a gang, instead of the six required now.
Officials could then seek a civil injunction banning the gang from, for example, entering a location where it might have been intimidating residents. If gang members violated the civil injunction, Nickles said, they could be prosecuted for crimes.
If enacted Nickles said, the crime measure would be used to target longtime neighborhood crews and gangs with national affiliations that have been setting up bases in the District.
"National gangs have been coming to our city. . . . We're taking action against them," he said.
Crime statistics listed on the police department's Web site cover nine types of offenses: homicide, sexual assault, robbery, armed robbery, burglary, theft, vehicle break-ins, auto theft and arson. At the end of September, 25,837 such incidents had been reported this year, a slight drop from the 25,975 reported from January through September 2007, according to preliminary data.
The biggest declines have been in armed robberies (2,499 to 2,200) and auto thefts (4,472 to 3,978); the number of reported sexual assaults is up 20 percent, to 265, according to the data.
In Los Angeles, more than 50 gang injunctions are in place banning gang members from 20 percent of the city, said Peter Bibring, an attorney for the ACLU's Los Angeles office. He said the injunctions have led to arrests of people who do not belong to gangs but may live where gangs operate.