Lancaster gang ordinance questionable
Professionals say it’s worth a second look
LANCASTER, Calif.—Last week, the Lancaster City Council passed Ordinance NB 1, which prohibits street gang members from attending city-sponsored events, with the intent to intimidate, commit a crime, or recruit.
Residents were perturbed by the vote and are anticipating some conflict between themselves and local officers. Many people spoke out at the Lancaster City Council meeting last Tuesday, expressing their concern that the ordinance is unconstitutional. They also claimed the ordinance will give officers free reign to incriminate anyone they want.
Admittedly, the new city law is not an easy one to enforce, but Mayor R. Rex Parris believes this is the best solution for the time being.
However, others see that there may be problems with the proposed solution.
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) professor of law, Sam Pillsbury, reviewed the ordinance and found similarities between NB 1 and an overturned ordinance proposed in Chicago in 1992. The “Gang Congregation Ordinance” prohibited members of criminal gangs from loitering or assembling in public areas. During the three years the ordinance was enforced, 89,000 dispersal orders were issued and 42,000 individuals were arrested. Jesus Morales was one of the thousands who were arrested.
In the case of City of Chicago v. Jesus Morales, the court found the law unconstitutional and that it violated the “Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
“The problem with that ordinance was its vagueness; a criminal law can’t be too vague,” Pillsbury explained. “Does it actually tell the public what is criminal intent or not, and does it guide law enforcement?”
He said some of the primary problems the City of Chicago had with the ordinance are showing up in Lancaster’s ordinance. However, the main difference is that Lancaster’s ordinance specifically states members are prohibited from loitering or gathering at “city sponsored events.” Chicago’s ordinance broadly stated public places.
Pillsbury added that there are two ways NB 1 can be analyzed: facial scrutiny and “as applied.” This means, if the court can find that the ordinance in its nature unconstitutional, it may be overturned.
“As applied” references that if a previous case proved the same or similar law was unconstitutional; then there is basis to overturn the law.
The LMU law professor also pointed out that because the ordinance specifies city events, question arise as to whether or not it is constitutional to exclude people from a public event.
“Public forum raises constitutional issues—places where people gather, when there is a public event,” he said. “Are people going to be excluded or are their First Amendment right going to be chilled.”
“Under the public-forum doctrine, government officials have less authority to restrict speech in places that by tradition have been open for free expression. Such an area is called a public forum,” according to the First Amendment Center. “When the government opens up a forum, it is generally subject to the same free-speech standards as a traditional public forum. This means that restrictions on speech are subject to the highest form of judicial review, known as strict scrutiny.”
While Pillsbury stays away from interpreting the ordinance, he said NB 1 is worth review.
LANCASTER, Calif.—A few weeks ago Mayor R. Rex Parris said something at a Lancaster City Council meeting that rubbed some residents the wrong way. He asked a representative of the Department of Housing, if there is or could be a law instituted that would revoke Section 8 vouchers from parents whose minor children are not attending school. From there the backlash began.
LANCASTER, Calif.—At last week’s Lancaster City Council meeting, Mayor R. Rex Parris asked Dorian Jenkins, deputy executive director of housing programs with the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles, if there was a way to confiscate Section 8 vouchers from tenants who did not enroll their children in school. He asked Jenkins if he would look into federal enforcement of state laws requiring children to attend school. Parris said that it would be beneficial for the whole community.
LANCASTER, Calif.—At the last city council meeting Mayor R. Rex Parris presented to his constituents an idea to establish a Lancaster-based task force to address the same issues that the already established Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force (AVHRTF) takes on.
At the Lancaster City Council meeting, the mayor proposed that if a Lancaster-based task force was in place, some of the tension that came up at the last meeting could have been avoided.
Although a group has already been established, Parris believes it is necessary to introduce a new one.
The city of Lancaster is now accepting applications for the fourth annual Uniting Neighbors in a Team Effort (UNITE) program.
Applications for the UNITE program are available on the city’s website at www.cityoflancasterca.org/unite and must be submitted by Friday, June 14 at 5 p.m. (postmark dates will not be accepted).
The program, which aims to help build safer and stronger neighborhoods, offers residents an opportunity to propose neighborhood improvement projects and compete for the resources and funding needed to make those projects a reality.
On Saturday, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Bureau, along with numerous teams, volunteers and city of Lancaster staff will conduct a survey in a specific Lancaster neighborhood with the purpose of identifying local crime and nuisance problems.
Teams will begin the door-to-door survey around 9 a.m. and continue until they have reached out to the nearly 600 homes in the area. The area to be surveyed is 10th Street West to Beech Avenue, and Avenue I to Avenue H-8. The area was identified after analysis of call and crime volume was conducted.