The Fresno City Council voted 7-0 Thursday to adopt an ordinance aimed at punishing gang members for harassing or recruiting school children, but some on the council – as well as Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer – want to see some of it reworded before final approval.
The introductory vote sends the ordinance back to its author, Councilman Sal Quintero, who pledged to work with the Police Department, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, the City Attorney’s Office and community groups to revise it.
The ordinance as presented Thursday makes it against the law for any member of a criminal street gang to “recruit, induce, solicit, intimidate or encourage” any person to participate in gang activity in any public place within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park.
A “public place” is defined as “any location open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned.” Public place includes “the front yard area, driveway and walkway of any private residence, business or apartment house.”
It includes a second clause that bans “harassing or intimidating any person.”
Harassing is defined as “a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting or seriously terrorizing the person that serves no legitimate purpose.”
The clause covering how a gang member is identified reads: “Among the circumstances that may be considered in determining whether a person is in violation of this ordinance based upon the knowledge and personal observations of the arresting officer is whether the person is a known gang member validated through Fresno Police Department’s 10-point criteria for gang validation.”
We want to make sure this ordinance is bulletproof – that it will withstand not only the public scrutiny, but the possible court cases.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
Quintero doubled down on his ordinance Thursday, saying that the council needed to “start the conversation now and let people know we mean business.” He added that his ordinance was more important than ever, as the council had approved an agreement with Fresno Unified School District to use its grounds as park space over the summer.
Luis Chavez helped author the ordinance. He is both Quintero’s chief of staff and president of the Fresno Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Chavez said that the city has already made a substantial investment in school safety by assigning a police officer to each school site. The ordinance would allow those officers to better protect students.
“We can’t tolerate a group of youth coming on the premises to start throwing up gang signs or barking or causing problems for the community,” Chavez said.
Critics believe the proposed ordinance’s language is far too broad to go into the Fresno municipal code.
On Thursday, audience member Jesse Dominguez shared his own thoughts with the council. He agreed with the need to address gang activity, but he wanted the council members to know profiling is very real in Fresno.
“I have been profiled for making a wrong turn,” Dominguez said. “I was given a DUI test and asked a million questions for nothing.”
He continued: “My son was handcuffed and put in the backseat of a car. He was shaken up. He goes to Fresno State. He wears Bulldog shirts – not because he’s part of the Bulldogs (gang).”
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer agreed with some of the critics’ points. Although he believes the ordinance is necessary and will help his officers combat gang activity, he sees possible problems with approving a law with unclear language.
“The last thing we want to do is put our officers in a position where they have to interpret what harassment is,” Dyer said. “We want to make sure this ordinance is bulletproof – that it will withstand not only the public scrutiny, but the possible court cases.”
Dyer said the ordinance sections on harassment or intimidation,as well as the gang identification criteria, were too broad. He wants to see the criteria more clearly defined to protect both the public and his officers, he said.
“It is not illegal for a person to be in a gang,” Dyer said. “(The department’s gang member identification criteria) is for adding gang enhancements to criminal complaints.”
Dyer also agreed with Councilman Clint Olivier, who noted that sections of the ordinance on weapons and drugs were redundant because those practices violate the state penal code.
This is a chance for us to be preventative.
Luis Chavez, Fresno Unified trustee and Sal Quintero staffer
But the chief stressed his support for some kind of gang ordinance.
“This would be used for gang members intimidating our youth,” Dyer said. “There’s currently not a law that allows our officers to make contact with an individual who is simply making comments to youth near schools.”
Council President Oliver Baines, a former Fresno cop and an African American, agreed wholeheartedly with the chief on most of his points. He said that he was the victim of profiling while living in Los Angeles and could sympathize with Dominguez and those worried about the broad language.
However, Baines clearly supports a gang ordinance.
“Our young men and women in our troubled neighborhoods are extremely vulnerable to this,” Baines said. “I know it. I see it. They start recruiting in elementary school. There is a constant effort by gang members to recruit.”
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said that children need to feel safe, but she sympathizes with those concerned over civil rights. She believes the city should also look into gathering with community groups to discuss possible social programs designed to stop gang activity, and Olivier promptly agreed with that sentiment.
No timetable for the ordinance revision and final vote was given.