A legal move to ban known gang members from certain areas could be coming to South Carolina, after working for decades in Los Angeles. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin is proposing that the city use civil injunctions against gang members.
“It's a fairly rigorous process in which law enforcement has to do a great deal of due diligence in building a case that someone's a validated gang member,” he says.
The city already has a database of more than 100 known gang members, he says.
“You bring someone before a judge. They're able to come with their attorneys, and we make the case, our lawyers and prosecutors, along with police officers, that this person is an active member of a criminal enterprise, and they are wreaking havoc or terrorizing this particular community and we need to stop them from working together and we need to keep them out of this community.
“The judge issues what's technically a restraining order, a restraining order that says you cannot be in this area at any time. Which means you can't shop there; you can't pass through there,” he says.
He says the city has been studying other areas that are already using the gang injunctions, especially Los Angeles, which has had them for decades. He says studies have shown that crime is down in the areas from which gang members are banned.
Similar gang injunctions have also been used in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.
Mayor Benjamin says LA's law has been upheld by the California Supreme Court.
So how would the injunctions be enforced? Columbia interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago says, “The data is going to come from so many different facets, whether it's incident reports, whether it's officer testimonies, whether it's physical evidence, surveillance, those are going to be a collective part of going forward to present a case for that to be decided.”
Mayor Benjamin says, “We have a network of 263 cameras with 800 more cameras coming. The data used there will help us be able to identify if someone is inside a safety zone. Individual reports. Someone sees someone, they call the police and the police are able to respond. And if, in fact, you're in violation of your restraining order, the police have every right to take you into custody, to search you, and to question you. So it's an effective tool.”
A gang member who violates the injunction can be charged with contempt of court.
One of the areas the mayor wants to ban gang members from is Five Points, near the USC campus.
Columbia City Council still must approve the plan, which would require additional attorneys and gang investigators.