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City of LA goes for its 45th gang injunction, this one against a San Fernando Valley group

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announces plans to file for an injunction against the Columbus Street gang in the San Fernando Valley.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announces plans to file for an injunction against the Columbus Street gang in the San Fernando Valley.

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Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Thursday proposed a new gang injunction that would create a 2.7 square mile "safety zone"  in the North Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

The injunction, to be filed by March 15, targets the Columbus Street gang, a 200-plus member group that authorities say is responsible for narcotic sales, graffiti and violence in the neighborhood. 

"For too long, the Columbus Street gang has used intimidation, violence, and fear in holding this community hostage to its nefarious activities," Trutanich said. 

Trutanich is running for his second term as city attorney in next Tuesday's election.

Gang injunctions are not new in the San Fernando Valley. There are already several in place in the neighborhood. The city's first true gang injunction came in the 1990's against neighborhood rival, Blyth Street gang.

This is the first injunction targeting Columbus Street. 

"Quick and witty"

LAPD Officer Larry Hernandez said the gang has flown under the radar. But the crackdown now follows two gang-on-gang homicides in the area in the past three years, both involving Columbus Street members, as well as a large narcotics bust in 2011 that also yielded an assault weapon. 

"This gang is quick and witty," Hernandez said. "They recruit fast. They absorb smaller gangs."

Hernandez said restrictions on associating in public for nearly 20 gang leaders,members and new recruits expected to be served "would be huge." 

The list of those who will be formally served with the injunction is not yet available. Typically, L.A. injunctions go against entire gangs, but the City Attorney's Office said it enforces restrictions only on those who've been formally served with papers.

Under the 44 gang injunctions currently in place citywide, more than 6,000 people have been served.

Those named in injunctions also have the option to apply for removal. Trutanich said his office has received about 76 such requests, though about 30 of them from people who mistakenly thought they'd been enjoined. Nine have been approved.

Doubts about gang injunction value

Civil liberties advocates question the value of gang injunctions, arguing that restricting a person's ability to associate with others is constitutionally questionable and doesn't do much to combat gang crime.

"It depends on who you ask," said attorney Olu Orange, who successfully sued the city over provisions in half of L.A.'s gang injunctions. 

"If you ask law enforcement, they've had a magnificent impact upon the city and everything's great and they work perfectly," Orange said. "If you ask many of the young folks who have been served with them, they've done nothing wrong, but have had their lives torn apart."

Orange said he knows young men who've been arrested under gang injunctions' "association" clauses for attending a relative's funeral or going to church with family members who fall under an injunction and are technically off limits.