Litter laws sweep LA drug dealers off the streets

Prosecutors in Los Angeles, in their latest attempt to break the power of the city's gangs, have rolled out a novel legal weapon: they are suing gang members in civil court for everything from loitering to littering.

There is no prospect of wringing damages from the Crips or the Bloods. But sympathetic judges are granting injunctions that proscribe a wide range of gang activities, and have effectively given police broad new powers of arrest.

Los Angeles, like many major American cities, has seen a significant drop in its murder rates in the last two years. But gang killings now account for nearly half the homicides in LA County and are among the most difficult to solve. One rising power is the 18th Street gang, a cross- racial gang with a loose-knit membership estimated at 20,000 and linked to 154 killings in the last decade.

Thirteen alleged leaders of the Mexican mafia, la Eme (the M) are on trial in a Los Angeles court. La Eme, which started as a prison gang, is said to have taken control of several hundred Hispanic street gangs, levying "taxes" on drug sales.

Fresh evidence of the gangs' criminal clout has driven new efforts in places like Pasadena, on the north-eastern edge of the city, where the Pasadena Denver Lanes gang, a Blood offshoot, until recently held sway.

Local prosecutors sued and won an injunction against 35 "PDL" members, naming them as a "public nuisance". It barred them from riding bikes, carrying pagers, cellular phones, and two way radios. Other injunctions have banned the wearing of gang colours, loitering and drinking in the street.

Earlier this autumn, three dozen members of the Lennox 13 gang in central Los Angeles were roused from their beds at 5am by police officers. Probably expecting to be hauled off in handcuffs, they were served with a 400- sheet stack of legal documents. "They were dazed and confused," said Kevin Ross, the prosecutor who obtained an injunction in the Lennox case. "They understand what it is to be arrested for shooting someone. This was something they had no idea how to react to."

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