- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved emergency legislation updating the city’s criminal code before the summer but rejected a much-debated provision backed by the Fenty administration dealing with civil injunctions for gang members.

The bill, approved by the council in a 10-3 vote, contains provisions that include increasing the mandatory minimum sentence for some felons in possession of a firearm, creating a registration program for gun offenders and making the third conviction for prostitution a felony offense.

But impassioned arguments over the bill centered largely on language that would allow the city to seek civil injunctions against gang members - a measure backed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty but left out of Tuesday’s emergency version put forward by council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

“It’s very easy to grandstand this issue and say: ‘This will be effective in reducing gang activity,’ ” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “But the research shows and study after study shows that this is counterproductive.”

The provision would have allowed the D.C. Attorney General’s Office to file a court complaint seeking to enjoin persons accused of being members of a criminal street gang from public nuisance activities. If a person violates the order, he or she could be fined or sentenced to months in prison.

The injunctions have been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, and some on the council said they could lead to targeting innocent people, infringing on constitutional rights and racial profiling. But proponents say the measures would provide police with a much-needed tool to help curb violence in the District, especially during the summer months.

“I have three major gangs in my ward,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. “Not a night goes by in the Shaw community that we don’t have a shooting.”

Mr. Evans and several others on the council argued in favor of an amendment to Mr. Mendelson’s temporary bill that would add the gang enforcement measure. Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, called the bill minus the measure “wanting.”

“It gives us no message,” Mr. Graham said. “It gives us no action to carry back to neighborhoods which today, and make no mistake about it, are suffering.”

The amendment was defeated in a 9-4 vote. D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles - who said officials have seen success using the injunctions in California and Texas - called the council’s action a “terribly wasted opportunity” to curb an increase in summer violence.

“I intend to continue to press it,” Mr. Nickles said.

But Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said proponents’ claims that the initiatives would provide a fix in the near future were “gimmickry.”

“These injunctions will lead to racial profiling and create further mistrust between police and the communities they police,” she said.

The emergency legislation did include an amendment by Mr. Graham that attaches recommendations from a recently released study on gang and youth violence. Mr. Evans also won approval of another amendment to the bill reducing the standard of proof for whether a suspect is a danger to the community and should be detained before trial.

Mr. Evans withdrew his own emergency crime bill that included the gang injunctions. Mr. Mendelson would not say whether he would work to incorporate the injunctions into the permanent crime bill slated to be marked up by his committee and come before the council at the end of the month - although he also would not say the issue was dead.

“The council was pretty decisive,” he said.

• Gary Emerling can be reached at gemerling@washingtontimes.com.

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