(Oxnard, Ca) The Oxnard Community Relations Commission offered the public an opportunity to hear a presentation from the Oxnard Police Department regarding Oxnard’s Gang Injunctions. Oxnard Police Chief, Scott Whitney and Assistant Police Chief, Eric Sonstegard took the opportunity to share information at City Hall.
“After experiencing a 4-year uptick in Part 1 reported crime, Oxnard is once again in the midst of a downward trend for the 3rd consecutive year,” shared Assistant Chief Eric Sonstegard. “Our goal is to continue that trend for our community and gang injunctions help in that process.”
Sonstegard is a Ventura County native who joined Oxnard Police Department in 1996.
With a Public Safety budget of $70M, roughly two-thirds of the city’s total budget, Oxnard Police Department includes 249 authorized sworn officers.
History of Gang Injunctions
Gang injunctions are civil court orders that allow police officers to arrest a person using a lower legal standard than required by the criminal justice system. Police officers identify individuals to be named in an injunction, using criteria like past convictions, tattoos, clothing, signs, photos with known gang members or friends who may also have past convictions.
A gang injunction is obtained by the City Attorney or District Attorney, who asks a judge to declare a particular group of people (considered a “gang”) to be a “public nuisance” and impose permanent restrictions on their lives and mobility. Law enforcement uses gang injunctions as a tool to restrict their activities to a defined area. If a person is deemed to be associating with a gang, they are served papers and attend an administrative hearing. The administrator officiating the hearing is typically a retired judge and decides whether the person is declared part of the gang and therefore subject to gang injunction. According to Oxnard PD, rarely do these individuals show up to the administrative hearings.
Recent Court Cases Challenging Gang Injunctions
In a recent case ruling from December 2017, the court ruled on behalf of the defendant, Carlos David Sanchez because he argued that he was not an active gang member covered by the injunction and that enforcement of the injunction against him violated his right to procedural due process. The trial court determined that the injunction burdened Sanchez’s constitutionally-protected liberty. The court deemed he was entitled to some adequate due process to determine whether he was an active gang member covered by the injunction. The trial court held that enforcement of the injunction against him violated his right to procedural due process.
With People v. Sanchez along with another court case from March 2018, the Oxnard Police Department suspended enforcement of its two gang injunctions until a more “robust hearing process” could be developed.
As a result Oxnard Police Chief, Scott Whitney, offered that his team would make a presentation to the community to help receive input on how the process for gang injunctions could be improved. “After an article in the LA Times quoted me in a way that suggested we were doing away with gang injunctions here in Oxnard, I received a volume of calls from the community telling us that they wanted gang injunctions to remain in place here in Oxnard.”
Presentation by Oxnard Police Department
Assistant Police Chief Eric Sonstegard began the presentation by sharing that gang injunctions have been in use all around California and differ widely in implementation from city to city. Many of the issues and complaints made against other programs do not apply to Oxnard’s gang injunctions.
The presentation included a history about gangs in Oxnard stating that the two major gangs are called the Colonia Chiques and the Southside Chiques. In the period of 2001-2005, the City of Oxnard experienced record high levels of violent gang assaults and gang-related homicides. In response to this, a civil gang injunction was obtained against the Colonia Chiques in June 2005. In October 2006, the second gang injunction was obtained against the Southside Chiques.
In 2008, the courts ruled that the curfew provision was unconstitutional, which caused a rewrite of both injunctions. The amended injunctions were obtained for the Colonia Chiques in May 2008 and the Southside Chiques in October 2008.
Over the past 14 years that gang injunctions have been in place, approximately 49 individuals associated with the Colonia Chiques have been removed along with 18 individuals associated with the Southside Chiques.
Oxnard Public Safety Statistics Are at Near Record Low Levels
Oxnard Police Department provided The Voice La Voz California the City of Oxnard’s crime statistics collected over nearly 50 years of data shared with the FBI Unified Crime Reporting (UCR).
Analysis shows that crime statistics per 1,000 in 1970 were 77.5 for both violent crime and property crime combined. The city peaked in 1978 to 92.43 Part 1 crimes per 1,000. From that year forward, the city has steadily improved to today’s rate of 30.56 Part 1 crimes per 1,000 off from a record low of 21.04 in 2011.
A slight uptick beginning after the passage of AB 109 has been seen statewide. Data shows that while AB 109 has lowered state prison populations, the burden of overcrowding has been shifted to the county level. Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016 have put additional pressure on city and county law enforcement agencies as organizations such as the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association continue to share the difficulty placed on law enforcement with the passage of laws reducing the penalty for crimes.
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