Shawn Betts, a leader of the 4 Corner Hustlers, a. violent street gang, was released from prison in October 2004 with the parole stipulation that he not return to the area controlled by his gang. He was made aware of the fact that he would be monitored by police for compliance with the stipulation. Nonetheless, less than six hours after his release from prison, he violated his parole.
Betts was under surveillance when he ducked into a van driven by his friends. They drove into Indiana briefly. Thus, Betts violated his parole by leaving the state without permission. The violation would probably never have been known had Betts not been being watched to make sure he did not return to his former turf.
Bettss revocation was the indirect result of a controversial new strategy by Chicago to rollback the gang violence plaguing its streets. Chicago police say that banishing paroled gang leaders from their former turf is working. Police say gangs commit about 50% of all homicides in Chicago. The institution of the turf restrictions in 2004 coincided with a 25% decrease in homicides for that year. Homicides in 2005 have continued to decrease, but only by a couple of percentage points.
According to Thomas Epach, Jr., the executive assistant to Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Crane, it is unclear how much the parole restriction had to do with the homicide reduction as police also launched other anti-gang initiatives in gang-controlled areas to help reign in the estimated 68,000 Chicago gang members. However, the restrictions and attendant surveillance have definitely increased the authorities knowledge of gang leaders activities. They have also dampened the violence that usually accompanies a paroled gang leaders reassertion of power in his gang.
Civil rights advocates and defense attorneys claim that the restrictions are unconstitutional infringements on the parolees right to associate with family and. friends. They also claim it makes finding work difficult for the parolees. Jorge Montes, chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, disagrees. He notes that the restrictions only apply to a small number of gang leaders whom authorities determined would be a threat to public safety.
Darren Jones, a leader of the Traveling Vice Lords, a street gang based in Chicagos west side, was released in January 2005, with the parole stipulation. Over the next three months, police watched while Jones reestablished old business connections and traveled into his gangs turf multiple times. They arrested him on multiple parole violations in March 2005.
Los Angles took another tack in battling violent street gangs. It sought court orders prohibiting gang members from associating with one another, intimidating neighborhood residents, and being lookouts who warn people engaging in criminal activity of the approach of police. It also established nearly 500 square miles of safety zones in which public behavior is highly regulated and gang-like behavior prohibited. Similar safety zones are being tried in El Paso, San. Antonio and Chicago.
In El Paso, Texas, police identified 35 members of the Barrio Azteca gang, established the Segundo Barrio area near downtown as a safety zone and obtained court orders banning the members from associating with each other within the zone. They also established a 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew for the gang members within the zone. According to El Paso police Sgt. Marylou Carrillo, between when the order took effect in April 2003, and January 2005, business burglaries decreased 33%, robberies decreased 20% and overall crime decreased 12% within the Downtown area.
Although the California Supreme Court upheld the use of court orders against gang members in a 1997 opinion involving San Jose, the U.S. Supreme Court may not be so accommodating. In 1999, it struck down a Chicago anti-loitering ordinance that targeted gang members by allowing police to arrest them if they ignored a police warning to move. The ACLU, which successfully overturned the loitering ordinance, also opposes the parole restrictions as violations of the parolees civil rights.
Another criticism of the parole restrictions comes from the suburban areas near Chicago. Suburban officials believe the parole restrictions will merely result in the migration of gangs to suburban areas. According to Larry Ford, assistant federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives director, some gangs have already been driven to the suburbs by intense police surveillance in urban areas. There, they are finding less competition for turf and less (police) scrutiny, said Ford.
Whether the parole restrictions, court orders and gang-free safety zones will turn the tide on gang violence remains to be seen.
Its hard to say which snowflake causes the avalanche, said Epach. Our aim is simple. Were trying everything to take the catalysts for violence out of the equation. Except of course the poverty that fuels crime and gangs in the first place.
Source: USA Today.
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