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It's hard to believe that of the 10,000 or more men and women identified as gang members in Los Angeles who are living under a gang injunction, only one man has reformed himself enough to shed the court-ordered restrictions.

Yet, in the year since City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced that ex-gang members could petition to have their names removed from injunctions, just one person qualified. One single person.

Only 20 have tried to remove their names from the gang injunction list, and of those, 11 were rejected, seven are pending, one was withdrawn and one was approved.

What's going on here?

Former gang members have long pushed for an exit strategy, so the reformed could shake the stigma of gang affiliation and escape from the legal burdens of the injunctions. The injunctions typically set a curfew and prohibit gang members from associating with one another in public, wearing specific attire, or possessing alcohol, drugs or weapons.

Community activists also pushed for the application process so young people identified by a gang injunction wouldn't be permanently branded as gang members. Too often young people wear the gang colors or maintain associations with the local gang just to survive - and then they get lumped together with the hardcore members by a gang injunction.

A confidential petition process was supposed to ensure people weren't unfairly deemed criminals, or inadvertently prevented from leaving the gang life behind. That's why the lack of interest now is so troubling.

Is the process too onerous, and therefore the reformed are unfairly stuck with the criminal tag? Is the distrust between the community and law enforcement so deep that people would rather be permanently identified as gangsters than speak up in order to be taken off the list?

Or is the lack of response a sign that gang injunctions are ineffective tools, despite the promises of both the city attorney and police?

One of the criticisms of the city's gang injunction program is that it has been spread so broadly - with 40 injunctions covering 65 gangs - that enforcement is virtually impossible. Police officers can't regularly check up on the 10,000 people named in gang injunctions to make sure they're not violating the rules, like hanging out together or wearing gang colors.

So, those who have given up gang life may see no value in having their names removed from the injunction. That's too bad. Gang injunctions should be an important tool for police and prosecutors to target neighborhoods hard hit by gang violence. It's a waste of resources to have a long list of gang members who no longer pose a threat to the community.

Nobody wants to see someone who has reformed be branded a gang member for life, that's why the exit option is so important. And nobody wants to see police or prosecutors waste precious time and money managing thousands of names on a list that may or may not deserve to be on the list any longer.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 17, 2009
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