South Valley Communities Target Gangs with Injunction

FRESNO, Calif. Sheriff's Deputies swarmed an Orosi apartment Monday. They made no arrests, but their mere presence signaled to gang members the law is taking back the streets here.

"We are going to hammer them and we're going to try and bring back the quality of life to the Cutler-Orosi area," said Undersheriff Dahl Cleek.

Deputies served a new injunction against gang members at 11 homes, casting a net over Cutler and Orosi -- areas plagued by gang activity.

Deputies estimate that as many as 300 gang members call the area home. That's one gang member for every 42 residents. Their graffiti stains homes, businesses, even churches.

"Cutler-Orosi has a lot of people that are just good hometown working folks, but they're afraid to let their kids go out," said district attorney Phil Cline. "They're afraid to go out themselves in the evening. That's when you've lost control of the community."

The injunction means gang members aren't allowed to use alcohol, gather together, or walk down the street together. They're essentially boxed in.

Its birth sprung from a series of deaths. Four gang-related murders kept investigators busy on one weekend in October 2008.

A federal "weed and seed" program gave deputies their first tool against gangs, making strides in schools to cut the problem down before it sprouts.

"We have a safe haven that's open from 6-9 p.m. every evening, Monday through Friday, year-round," said Boone Robertson with the Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District.

The safe haven gives kids a place to hang out until late in the evening, offering an alternative to spending time on the streets.

The new gang injunction also gives schools the authority to keep groups of kids from congregating on campus.

Over the last two years, similar injunctions have succeeded in creating safe zones in North Visalia and Ivanhoe and deputies say gang activity has decreased dramatically.

"Do the gang members still exist?" asked Undersheriff Cleek. "Yes. But are they likely to be so bold? Let's see."

The temporary Cutler-Orosi injunction is expected to become permanent in late May.

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