NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Civil Injunctions Help Fight Crime

August 2, 2002

Gangs are a common menace in many American cities, but containing them is quite difficult. However, a new policy initiative in California is bearing fruit. A recent study in the Journal of Law and Economics finds that civil injunctions can be used to fight gang crime.

Injunctions are civil actions that prohibit specifically named individuals from engaging in particular behavior. This outlawed behavior ranges from the mundane (carrying a cell phone) to the already illegal (selling drugs). Once the injunction has been approved, all named individuals are served with a complaint. Violators can be charged in civil or criminal court.

According to the report, there are several advantages of civil injunctions:

  • Under civil law, penalties may be incurred without criminal due process.
  • When individuals are served with the complaint, they become aware of how much the police know about their activities, increasing the gang member's perceived probability of apprehension.

Using 1992 to 1999 data from the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Pasadena Police Departments and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the report finds that:

  • Civil gang injunctions reduced violent crime from between 1.5 to 3.0 crimes per quarter in the average targeted neighborhood during the first year.
  • This amounts to a decline of roughly 5 to 10 percent per neighborhood.
  • Most of this decline stems from reductions in assault, the most prevalent form of violent crime.

The report finds that civil injunctions can serve as a moderate deterrent to crime. However, it also warns that civil injunctions may increase the potential for civil rights abuse.

Source: Jeffrey Grogger, "The Effects of Civil Gang Injunctions on Reported Violent Crime: Evidence from Los Angeles County," Journal of Law and Economics, Volume XLV (1), April 2002.


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