Dealing With Gangs in Fullerton

(Photo: Davis Barber/FullertonStories.com)

 

Pastor Greg Reed and his wife Emily have been pastoring for only one year. Their small evangelical Christian church, Living Word Harvest, occupies a small space above a convenience store off of Lemon Drive and Valencia Avenue in Fullerton near the heart of the Maple neighborhood. If they would not have relocated here, they would have moved their services to Inglewood.

The Maple neighborhood is very unique compared to other ones Pastor Greg has seen.

“It is very family oriented,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone. There aren’t bullets flying everywhere. There are drug problems but we aren’t afraid of having our services here.”

Also present in the Maple neighborhood is Fullerton Tokers Town, a local gang for over 40 years, whose members are the subject of an injunction by the Orange County District Attorney. The injunction targets specific members in an attempt to lessen the public nuisance the DA claims they cause in the North Orange County area.

Pastor Greg recognizes many on the complaint list even though the church  moved in just last year.  Many he has spoken to during his outreach in the community; at least two visit his church.

The gang problem in Fullerton is nothing new. In fact, last year the city obtained a grant to help suppress its actions and work to help those at risk  and the community improve their quality of life and reduce the violence associated with the gang.

But the recent injunction obtained by the OCDA threatens those efforts, as it restricts a wide swath of people and activities that can potentially send a mixed message to members of the community.

A gang injunction is a civil order that restricts or prohibits documented gang members from participating in specific acts or activities that may not be inherently criminal within a designated area, or “Safety Zone.” The terms are designed to curb intimidating or harassing behavior. The Safety Zone encompasses 7.45 square miles in Fullerton, Anaheim and Buena Park.

“When the police put the heat on a community like this one,” he told churchgoers during a June 1 service.  “I have seen tensions rise. Let us pray this will not happen in our city and that this injunction will lead to peace.”

Aaron Orozco, Fullerton Parks & Recreation Supervisor, and Case Managers Johana Coca, left, and Inez Amayo (Photo: Davis Barber/ FullertonStories.com)

Aaron Orozco is a Fullerton Parks and Recreation coordinator and director of the CalGrip program.

“The program is slated to start by summer,” he said. “We have hired two case managers and we are currently contracted with a few community based programs. We have identified the families we are going to work closely with based on nominations by schools and law enforcement.”

The program aims to work with fifty at-risk youth and their families. Case managers that are specifically trained for the program work with the entire household as part of a voluntary intervention program. Parents must be open to case managers coming into their lives and homes, he said.

The hope with the CalGRIP program is expose youth to influences beyond the neighborhood. As each generation in a family sees the same thing going on in their neighborhood, he said, they get caught up in the lifestyle.

“We want to open their eyes to show them what else is out there outside of their little world,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many kids in these neighborhoods who have been in Orange County all of their life but have never been to Huntington Beach.”

Services under the grant include family workshops on recognizing the signs of gang/drug involvement and job search skills. There will also be education programs such as after-school art, homework help, tutoring, recreational activities and mentoring programs.

Orozco said the program is aimed at providing youth with a safe space and positive role models. It’s modeled after Columbia University-based CASA Start, which works as a drug abuse prevention program across the country.

As Orozco helped write the grant, he said it was really surprising to get the statistics related to the gang problem. He noticed that children are engaging in gang activity at an earlier age.

“It’s usually around junior high or high school where teenagers start to get involved in a gang,” he said. “I was seeing statistics relating to 5th and 6th graders here in Fullerton engaging in gang activity.”

Orozco is not familiar with specifics of OCDA injunction,  however he said the main goal of the CalGRIP program is gang prevention, whereas the injunction has more to do with suppression.

The individuals listed in the original complaint of the injunction consist of males ranging from age 16 to early 20s.  

Some of the prohibited activities include wearing gang related clothing, flashing signs, drinking after 10 pm in non-designated drinking establishments, possessing drug paraphernalia, intimidation in public and limits association with other gang members unless they are family or during designated school hours as well as church.

If a member of an enjoined gang violates the terms, he or she will be arrested and face prosecution. The case may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor for disobeying a court order and the defendant will be placed on gang probation terms or be sent to jail for up to six months.

A gang injunction imposed in Orange in early 2009 had a major defeat by the ACLU last month. According to the ACLU website, the Court found the OCDA and the City of Orange Police Department violated due process by enforcing a gang injunction against individuals who had never been given a hearing on whether they were gang members.

The Court also held that being subject to a gang injunction significantly restricts a person’s basic liberties, and that whether or not someone is a gang member is a complex factual question that should not be left to the sole discretion of police and prosecutors to decide.

According to the latest injunction, the 68 individuals listed include “the most active gang members who are well-documented through personal admission and/or affiliation, association with known gang members, dressing in the style of the gang or having gang tattoos, possessing gang paraphernalia, and/or committing crimes for the benefit of the gang.”

Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich said the individuals included in the injunction are confirmed, hardcore gang members.

“Our gang unit put in hundreds, if not thousands of hours making sure we have evidence supporting these are gangs members,” he said. “We wanted to avoid pitfalls of injunctions enforced in other areas.”

Goodrich said the main goals are gang prevention and bringing peace to residents in the Safety Zone.

Researchers at UC Irvine and the University of Southern California have found that injunctions provide short-term benefits, such as reducing residents’ fear of run-ins with gang members.

The 2005 study suggests that more significant changes in the community take root slowly over time.

In July 2010, a study published in the American Journal of Law found enforcing gang injunctions in ways that are perceived to be unjust could foster distrust and tension between the community and law enforcement, thereby undermining the potential for collaboration that could have longer term impacts of gang activity in the impacted communities.

Pastor Greg Reed outside of Living Word Harvest Church (Photo: Davis Barber/FullertonStories.com)

The study also posed that gang injunctions undermine efforts of young gang members and those at risk of gang membership to become productive citizens.

Goodrich acknowledged there could be unintended consequences of the injunction. The expectation is that law enforcement will work to implement the injunctions in ways that do not counteract with other gang prevention efforts in the city.

“The hope is that between our gang prevention efforts with Cal GRIP and the gang injunction, young people will choose to interpret it as a wake up call and realize joining a gang is not a valid or good life choice,” he said.

A young male listed in the injunction, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he feels like he can’t breathe in public or else police will arrest him.

He wants to move out of the neighborhood so he can finish school and get a career. It’s impossible to accomplish those goals while living in the neighborhood, he said. He eventually wants to pursue a career in engineering or law.

Pastor Greg said he’d like to see troubled residents come to his services for help. Not only can the church help out with their everyday battles, he said, they can also help with overcoming life threatening addictions.

Living Word Harvest hosts free rehabilitation centers run by its members to help out those struggling with drug addiction.

“The influences of the neighborhood have a stronghold on some of the most vulnerable,” he said. “Most of the folks there know who we are. We want them to know that we are here to help.”

Originally posted on Fullerton Stories

Amber Stephens
amber.stephens@gmail.com