Solutions to Gangs in Earlimart – A Priority for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks to the media about the gang injunction against the Norteno criminal street gang during a press conference Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 at the Board of Supervisors. Courtesy/Tulare County Sheriff Department
Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks to the media about the gang injunction against the Norteno criminal street gang during a press conference Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 at the Board of Supervisors. Courtesy/Tulare County Sheriff Department

Plagued by years of gang activity, Earlimart might finally get some relief. The sheriff’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit has started issuing injunctions to identified gang members aimed at the Norteno gang. Even though the sheriff’s department has just started educating the community about what the injunction means, the innovative tactic seems to be already be working.

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said during a press conference on February 5 that the sheriff’s department has already started serving the injunctions to identified gang members. It has been reported that some of the gang members have just left the area.

“To me that’s a win, win,” said Boudreaux.

Even though the community of Earlimart has only 8,500 residents, it has been plagued by homicides, vandalism, graffiti and drive-by shootings. Between 2013 and 2015 there were 41 drive-by shootings and 306 burglaries. The amount of gang activity has gotten so intense that residents are afraid to go outside their homes. That affects businesses and children’s participation in afterschool educational programs and afterschool sports. The northern gangs outnumber the southern gangs by four to one. The injunction could eventually include the southern gangs.

“I’m here to say that from the sheriff’s department, we are dedicating resources to solve the gang problem and make our communities safe,” said Boudreaux.

With the help of the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit conducted a three-year investigation. The investigation used a detailed list of criteria that outlined who would be considered a gang member.The investigation took thousands of personnel hours collecting crime statistics and yielded the names of 189 suspected gang members. Only 89 suspects met the strict criteria to be included in the injunction. More names can be added as new members join a gang.

The next step for the sheriff’s department is to continue serving the injunctions, 39 of which have already been done. After all 89 are served there will be a two-week cooling off period. The sheriff’s department uses the opportunity to educate gang members they are serving the injunction to about what the injunction means. As mentioned earlier, some gang members have just decided to leave and the hope is others will cease their gang activities altogether.

Because of the success of the gang injunction in the Cutler-Orosi area, the sheriff’s department wanted to try it in Earlimart. In Cutler-Orosi from 2005–2010 there were 13 gang-related murders. Because of the injunction, from 2010 to the present there have only been three homicides. Because of the injunction teachers have reported that more students are participating in extra-curricular activities and afterschool sports. Businesses have seen an increase in customers because people feel safer to leave their homes. The TCSD is hoping for the same results in Earlimart.

“Gangs have been instilling fear on our streets and we want people to feel safe again,” said Mikki Verissimo, said supervising district attorney.

Sergeant Steve Sanchez helped write the injunction currently in use in Cutler/Orosi and wrote the injunction for Earlimart. The injunction states that gang members cannot associate within the boundaries of Earlimart. The no-association restriction prohibits gang members from standing, sitting, walking, driving, bicycling, gathering or appearing anywhere in public view with any other defendant herein, or with any other known gang member.

If one of the gang members, who was served with the injunction is caught associating with another gang member they will be arrested and held for 48 hours. The injunction also states that gang members cannot act as lookouts, recruit other gang members, sell drugs, engage in vandalism, and are prohibited from drinking in public. They also have a curfew and cannot be out between 10pm and 5:30am. If caught involved in any of these activities, or out during the curfew, the targeted gang member would be arrested.

The first very limited gang injunction was filed in 1988 to limit graffiti in Los Angeles.The first full-blown injunction similar to the ones used today was filed in October, 1992, in Burbank against the Barrio Elmwood Rifa gang. This was the first injunction to include a no-association clause prohibiting gathering or appearing anywhere in public view with any other defendant anywhere in the target area.

The first time a gang injunction was used in Tulare County was in Visalia. An injunction cannot blanket an entire city so the injunction was specific to North Visalia.

In March, 2008, the Visalia Police Department issued injunctions against more than 250 members of the South Side Kings gang in Ivanhoe. A week later they issued about 470 injunctions in North Visalia, against Mexican Gangster Boys, Encina Street Riders and North Side Birdland Street gangs. All are affiliated with Norteños. A few days later, prosecutors returned to court seeking a similar injunction against members of the Oriental Troops street gang in the same north Visalia area from just south of Lincoln Oval Park to north of “Birdland.”

The Ivanhoe and North Visalia injunctions came about because so many Norteño crimes on the north side were going unreported because residents and business operators feared retaliation if they talk to police.

“I have personally investigated crimes … as heinous as murder or carjacking where the families of the victims’ refuse to cooperate with me,” a Visalia police officer wrote. “The citizens and business owners within the safety zone live in fear and intimidation daily.”

Boudreaux said, “No longer can gang members associate with each other in public within the safe zone, which includes the town of Earlimart. If they do so, they will be arrested and prosecuted in court. ”

His department was optimistic that the gang injunctions would mean the citizens of Earlimart would be able to get their community back.

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