Gang injunctions: Crime fighting tool or civil rights violator?


WICHITA FALLS, Tx (RNN Texoma) - Gang injunctions have been in place in Wichita Falls for almost 12 years.

Similar law orders can be seen in the second largest city in the nation, Los Angeles.

The LA Times reported Thursday, a federal judge barred the city from enforcing nearly all its gang injunctions.

Here at home, Wichita Falls police say it is a tool that keeps our communities safe, but an attorney believes it violates civil rights.

Right now, the city of Wichita Falls has five gang injunctions.

Police say that includes five "Gang Safety Zones" where more than 80 listed gang members cannot do certain things.

"It does not limit every activity.  It doesn't limit one's ability to be in that area and to be a productive member of society in that area," said Sergeant Harold McClure, WFPD. "It just targets specific criminal gang behavior."

Like possess alcohol at any time, have nails or screwdrivers or be in the area between specific hours, among other things.

Rick Bunch, a Wichita Falls lawyer and former Dallas police officer for ten years, said it violates civil rights.

"It's just not a good law.  It's not good police practice.  It's a simple way out, and it lends to the harassment of individuals who don't need to be harassed," said Bunch. "It ruins families, and it hurts our justice system, I believe."

Bunch said he agrees with the U.S. District Judge who believes Los Angeles did not give those alleged gang members an opportunity to challenge the civil restraining orders in court.

He said those who are put on it are given a short period of time to figure out their next move when it comes to fighting the case, adding they usually don't have money to take it to a judge.

Sergeant McClure said what it is fighting is crime.

"Violent crimes, property crimes, within our city has dramatically nose-dived between 2005 and current, and I do believe a huge contributing factor to that is this gang injunction," said Sgt. McClure.

However, Bunch said crime rates are going down all across the United States due to a lot of different factors.

"And gang injunction is not the reason."

Another concern some have is the amount of time those civil restraining orders last.

Sgt. McClure said it is not forever, adding if those on the list stay out of trouble and do not participate in gang activities, it is lifted, but Bunch said all it takes is a simple mistake, like getting pulled over for having a tail light out.

"When that happens, they extend the injunction for another seven years, and so they're actually on there for 10 years," said Bunch.

Sgt. McClure said the hope is that the individual that has been served finds others to associate with and gets away from a criminal lifestyle.

"Maybe they begin to rehabilitate and pick a different path in life," he said.

He adds the Wichita Falls gang injunctions went to court in 2007, and it was upheld by a judge.

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