By Steven Tavares

Hayward is on track to tackle its vexing gang problem with civil injunctions used with varying effects in Oakland and San Francisco. The city could file its first injunction in Superior Court against an alleged 400-member gang sometime later this year .

A majority of the Hayward City Council registered support for the program, which was one of the highlights of the federal grant it received in 2009 to add nine police officers to its force—including three specifically for the formation of a Gang Injunction Unit. A few councilmembers voiced concern, though, over the potential for infringing on the civil rights of its residents, including Councilman Mark Salinas, who was raised in chronically crime-addled South Hayward.

“This concept of gang injunctions further fuels a very dynamic tension between urban, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual communities and an older generation of Hayward,” said Salinas. “That image is of Latino and African Americans.” He added the program has the potential to cause reverberations across how the city looks at its youth. “This tool, as oppose to other law enforcement tools, sends a very big ripple effect to how we construct on how we look at the young people in this city.”

The council’s reticence over the potential for law enforcement to profile suspected gang members through a racial or socio-economic lens was apparent during Tuesday’s work session. Along with Salinas’ objections, Councilmembers Barabara Halliday and Olden Henson broached the subject, although both ultimately supported the program.

“It is imperative that we protect the community,” said Henson, who is black. “It doesn’t matter if its an African American or not and I’m hit in the head, it still hurts.”

When Halliday questioned Hayward Capt. Darryl McAllister on how the introduction of a gang injunction program would strengthen the police department’s ability to crack down on gang activity as oppose to merely identifying suspects committing crime and pursuing them, he said it was “another legal means for officers to do their jobs.” “I feel like you’re walking a tight rope here,” said Halliday, in response.

Salinas and Councilman Bill Quirk also questioned if the city’s future budgets will be able to afford the highly intensive investigation and documentation process of tracking the gangs and their member’s activity.

The potential gang injunction program centers, in legal terms, with viewing the alleged formation and activity of its members as an “unincorportated association” similar to any other legal entity. The state definition, according to McAllister, is a group of three or more with a common name and symbols, typically similar tattoos or other markings, who engage in a pattern of criminal activity. Only through intensive investigation and documentation to satisfy the courts for an injunction, he said, can the police begin to monitor members for violating aspects of the order. Among them, consorting with other known gang members in public and within a specific area and violating curfew.

The injunctions are inherently complex in order to satisfy rigid legal requirements. The City Attorney’s office in Oakland has recently met legal challenges from a group of alleged gang members who say the injunctions are illegal and violate their civil rights.

There was no discussion Tuesday night of Oakland’s recent difficulty with their version of the injunction program, but clues to the city’s position were included in a staff report. It calls the lawsuits filed by 40 alleged gang members in Oakland a “tactic” being used to stifle its ability to enforce the injunctions, “frustrate the process and bleed the city’s resources to the point where accommodating the due process hearings becomes too costly to pursue.”

The fact remains, though, there is a perception among Hayward residents that crime is continuing to rise. Hayward resident Dave Jorgensen said the prevalence of graffiti around the city points directly to increased gang activity. “Anybody that doesn’t believe Hayward has a gang problem is naïve,” he said. “Police need every weapon they can get. Please do not handcuff our police department.”

Hayward Mayor Mike Sweeney called crime “one of the city’s biggest concerns” as evidenced by numerous surveys and public calls for a solution. “We’re not talking about altar boys wearing the wrong colors or flashing the wrong signs,” he said, “we’re talking about serious criminals.”

A timeline of the city’s next step calls for the filing of its first injunction with the Superior Court some time in the late summer or early fall. According to a staff report, it is currently investigating a Hayward gang believed to possess a membership of more than 400.