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ACLU Letter to King County Council Re Gang Ordinances 050812

ACLU Letter to King County Council Re Gang Ordinances 050812

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Published by: pwissel3066 on May 09, 2012
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May 7, 2012Members of the Metropolitan King County Council516 Third Ave., Rm. 1200Seattle, WA 98104 VIA ELECTRONIC MAILDear Councilmembers,I write on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-WA) toexpress our concerns regarding two proposed gang suppression ordinances that arebeing discussed by the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday,May 8
Proposed Ordinances No. 2012-0134 and 2012-0135. The ACLU-WA is a statewide, non-partisan, non-profit organization with over 20,000members, dedicated to the preservation and defense of civil liberties, and for the lastseveral years, we have been an active participant in statewide and local efforts to find realsolutions to gang issues. We believe, and the available evidence demonstrates, thatfunding and supporting the work of community-based organizations that provideprevention and intervention programs is the best way 
indeed, the only way that hasproven successful
to keep youth out of gangs and get gang-related crime under control. What does not work is attempting to arrest our way out of the problem
yet that isprecisely what POs 0134 and 0135 would have us do.
PO 0135 violates due process rights, invites differential enforcement, and will notsolve gang problems in King County.
PO 0135 allows courts to order individuals to
stay out of designated “gang emphasis areas
. As the proposed ordinance is currently  written, court orders can issue pretrial as a condition of release or as a part of a sentenceafter conviction. Violation of the order constitutes a new, separate crime.PO 0135 violates due process in several ways. It provides no direction or criteria as tothe metho
d of designating or selecting the “gang emphasis areas
” The
County Council
is not required to find that the “designated parcels” are the locations
of gang crimes orother criminal activity. And there is no requirement that the individual subject to the
order be connected to the “designated parcels” either by criminal conduct or otherwise.
 The proposed ordinance also fails to set out any procedure by which the court may 
determine that an individual should be subject to “gang emphasis area” order.
 Theordinance does not require the judge to find that the defendant meets the definition of a
“gang member” or that his or her charged offense be a “criminal street gang 
Nor does the ordinance establish the burden of proof required for issuing theorder. This lack of guidance is particularly problematic because the ordinance as
currently written allows a court to issue an order as a pretrial condition of release
at apoint when no crime has been proven at all. Finally, there appears to be no provision toprovide notice to the public of where these exclusion zones are located. Given thepotential for infringement of civil liberties, the omission of basic due process protectionsfrom the proposed ordinance is troubling.In contrast to existing legislation on drug and prostitution areas, PO 0135 invites racialprofiling in its enforcement. People who have been in gangs, studied, or worked aroundthem know that it is very difficult to accurately identify gang members by clothing orother visual factors. They also know that gangs are mobile rather than confined toparticular blocks or parcels, and can easily move elsewhere once banned from aparticular area. There is no simple visual way to make the determination of who in anarea is violating a gang zone
and it is all too often made on the basis of race, ethnicity,mode of dress, or other factors that have more to do with stereotyping than effective law enforcement. For example, racially biased enforcement of gang injunctions in Oaklandhas been documented, with local community members complaining of abuse andprofiling.In considering this legislation, the King County Council should take a hard look at theavailable evidence
the vast weight of which has shown that, at best, gang injunctionsof this kind have little to no impact on violent crime rates, and at worst, that they actively increase crime by bringing young people who are trying to reintegrate intosociety back into the criminal justice system, with all the unnecessary expense thatentails. Rather than creating an expensive new crime for these young people to violate,those same resources should be allocated to keeping them out of gangs in the first place, while focusing law enforcement efforts on those who commit violent crimes.
PO 0134 is unnecessary and infringes on due process.
PO 0134 creates a new general crime of criminal gang intimidation, which under state statute applies only toschool enrollees. But the state statute was limited to those in school with good reason
schoolchildren are a captive audience with an obligation to go to school,
and shouldn’t
be harassed while there to join or rejoin a gang. More broadly, we already have a statelaw that prohibits threats of bodily injury (RCW 
9A.46.020) and don’t need to create a
new crime. Additionally, the proposal is vague and likely would not have any impact oncoerced recruiting into gangs since the ordinance does not require any proof that theperson making the threat is actually a gang member or is attempting to force the victimto join a particular gang.
POs 0134 and 0135 will take funds and focus away from the proven solution of  prevention and intervention, which King County has already under-invested in.
 Both of these proposed ordinances take the view that we can arrest our way out of thegang problem
and take our focus away from what we already know works. Multiplestudies have shown
 —and the federal government’s Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention agrees
that the most effective mechanisms for keeping young people out of gangs are proactive prevention and intervention programs, such as thosethat a number of under-funded organizations in King County are already providing. This investment will pay for itself in reduced criminal justice costs for gang-involvedyouth in the future, as well as in safer communities.

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