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Policing by Injunction: Problem-Oriented Dimensions of Civil Gang Abatement in the State of California

NCJ Number
Date Published
419 pages
This federally funded study explored the scope of flexibility, community involvement, and problem solving in the acquisition stage of the civil injunction process in the State of California, an effort by prosecutors to acquire a preliminary injunction against a gang to abate persistent public nuisance activity in neighborhoods.
Advocated by the problem-oriented perspective which includes innovative strategies of problem-oriented policing, civil gang abatement is a law enforcement proactive anti-gang strategy combining the law of public nuisance and the civil remedy of the preventive injunction therefore aiding to reduce the destructive influence of gangs on neighborhoods. Funded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, this study explored the nature of the civil gang abatement trends in the State of California to determine whether the use of injunctions to abate gang activity was a problem-oriented intervention addressing the causes of a pervasive public order problem. Two key dimensions of the problem-oriented perspective were analyzed: flexibility and community involvement. The concept of flexibility suggests that the provisions of requested relief and situational characteristics vary across injunction initiatives. Community involvement in the decision-making process allows for greater visibility for the procedures used to tackle problems. These were analyzed in the acquisition stage of the injunction process or the injunction initiative due to this providing the broadest spectrum of the gang injunction trend. Injunction initiatives include actions resulting in a preliminary injunction and actions where injunctive relief was denied, dismissed, or still in litigation. A categorical data analysis was conducted examining all identified gang injunction cases filed with the Superior Court of California from October 26, 1987, through June 30, 2000. Forty-two identified gang injunction initiatives were represented. Results suggest that there was sufficient evidence of variation to conclude that gang injunctions tended to be “flexible” and therefore consistent with the problem-oriented perspective. The initiatives were evenly distributed among three categories: high-drug, high-crime, and high-disorder initiatives. The strongest and most straightforward evidence of flexibility was the categorization of injunction initiatives requested by the prosecutor, which displayed a high level of variation. Results regarding community involvement suggest that the assumption that community organizations can serve as a proxy for the community was incorrect, at least in the highly disorganized neighborhoods commonly targeted by gang injunctions. The study also examined whether gang injunction initiatives followed problem-solving methodology consisting of four steps: problem identification, analysis, response, and assessment. The evidence suggested that problem-solving methodology was widely used in civil gang abatement initiatives. There was evidence of all four steps indicating that gang injunctions were not simply quick reactions to gang activities. In conclusion the majority of gang injunction initiatives were a flexible response to local gang activity. In regards to policy implications, it is hoped that this study will assist local policymakers and participating community entities in deciding whether the strategy of policing by injunction is an appropriate response to gang problems in their community. Future research should include: the use of injunctions by community prosecutors for other persistent public order problems, such as prostitution and research into other innovative measures employed by prosecutors under the rubric of both community prosecution and traditional case-oriented prosecution. Tables, references, and appendices A-E

Date Published: January 1, 2002