In Ken Hart's Guest Commentary ("Trece editorial relies on false assumptions," March 4) he makes a number of false allegations and misleading comments. We don't expect everyone to agree with us on the use of gang injunctions and we certainly recognize that reasonable minds can disagree. However, it is irresponsible to distort the facts to strengthen one's arguments. This is exactly what Mr. Hart has done.
When I was appointed as the county attorney in May of 2009, I made it one of my top priorities to combat the rise of gang activity and gang violence in this community. I began working with Lt. Scott Conley of the Ogden Police Department to look for proactive ways to deal with our gang problem. Our efforts have not focused solely on enforcement. The Ogden Police Department has worked diligently to educate kids about the dangers of gang membership. The Ogden Police Department also organized the C.R.O.S.S. program which works with juveniles who are in gangs or who are at a high risk to join a gang. It focuses on education, developing employment skills, staying in school, drug and alcohol education and encourages them to become involved in pro-social activities that will move them away from the gangs.
While this type of program is important, it alone will not solve our gang problem. We also decided to use a gang injunction to limit gang activity. We targeted Ogden Trece because of the overwhelming amount of criminal activity this gang has been involved in.
We identified murders, drive by shootings, assaults, thefts, drug dealing, graffiti, robberies, burglaries and riots. We felt that this criminal street gang was an appropriate target of our first injunction.
Mr. Hart makes several statements that need to be corrected. He alleges that someone in a BYU T-shirt who stops and asks a gang member for directions can be labeled as a gang member. This is absolutely false. Before someone can be identified as a gang member at least two objective gang indicators must be found. One of these is that a person is found with gang members on at least three occasions. That fact alone is insufficient to label someone a gang member. Police must find an additional identifier, such as a gang specific tattoos, clothing or an admission.
Mr. Hart alleges that our injunction is far more sweeping than injunctions upheld in other states. This is another assertion that is patently false. We have carefully scrutinized injunctions from other states and ours is less restrictive than many of them. Mr. Hart states that the injunctions in other states are limited to a few crime-ridden city blocks. This is also false. There are entire cities in California covered by an injunction.
Mr. Hart claims that the police have admitted "that only a few of them are active gang members." This is another false claim. As is his claim that a police officer testified that "only 20 or so hard-core gang members regularly participate in criminal activity." I've been involved in every hearing and there was no such testimony.
Mr. Hart claims that we are interfering with "healthy familial associations." Maybe he considers young teenagers using illegal drugs and drinking at gang parties with their parents to be healthy. We don't. Nor do we consider to be healthy a recent case where an Ogden Trece brother and sister committed an armed robbery together. When a concerned citizen called the police, the sister encouraged her brother to shoot him.
Mr. Hart claims that gang members can't take their children outdoors or go to the store without risking arrest for innocent activities. If Mr. Hart has read the injunction he knows this is false. Gang members can go to school, work, church, and engage in other lawful activities.
Ogden Trece members can't hang out with other gang members in public. The injunction addresses specific gang activity and the precursors to gang activity that affect the safety and well being of the law abiding citizens of this community.
The United States Supreme Court has held that there are two types of associations that are entitled to First Amendment protections. Criminal gang activity does not fall under either type of protected association. The Supreme Court has stated that Freedom of Association "does not extend to joining with others for the purpose of depriving third parties of their lawful rights."
There is no constitutional right to be in a criminal street gang and violate the rights of others. Law-abiding citizens have the right to a safe community to raise our families in.
We have the right to be free from intimidation and to feel secure in our homes and neighborhoods. We have the right to not have gang graffiti defile our neighborhoods.
We live in a great community. We have world class recreational opportunities and wonderful people who make positive contributions to society.
It's important that we don't allow this criminal street gang to trample on our rights and diminish our safety and standard of living.
Law enforcement and my office will continue to aggressively pursue all legal means to protect this community from those who prey on it.
Smith is with the Weber County Attorney's Office