Ten Seconds to Eternity

Can Jack Bauer escape certain death from an oncoming tanker?

But the story has resonated deeply with experienced kayakers, many of whom say they're still aghast at the heedlessness of the channel kayakers and particularly Kai. "It's outrageous that he took newbies into that inlet," one veteran kayak excursion leader says.

Kai himself responds to the furor with some agitation of his own in a written response to his critics. He says that the excursion announcement specified that only "skilled solo paddlers capable of self-rescue" should sign up. He says that safety issues were reviewed before launching. He also acknowledges that mistakes were made — "and valuable lessons learned." He adds that kayaking always has inherent dangers. "Kayaking is not without risks regardless of any factors," he says.

What about his fellow paddlers on the excursion? "What an adventure!" enthused one member of the group online. Added another: "Honestly, I can't stop laughing! The tugboats screaming at us to get out of the way, Jack and his sandals..." They had a blast.

Jeff Bingham, a well-known kayak instructor who had adopted the moniker "Kayak Jeff," says there's a tendency in this state to downplay danger. "Everybody thinks that the water's not that cold, so what could happen?" Bingham says. "There's a false sense of security in Florida. My motto is: Adventure is closer than you think."

Tried and Untrue

The gang crisis in Los Angeles is getting so desperate, a research group commissioned by the city to look into the problem led off its most recent report, submitted in December, with this observation: "Los Angeles is to violence what Bangladesh is to diarrhea."

Nothing the city has done in 20 years about its exploding gang wars has seemed to work, the report states. "After a quarter century of a multi-billion dollar war on gangs, there are six times as many gangs and at least double the number of gang members in the region." Some 700 gangs with about 40,000 members now plague the area, and nothing the police or prosecutors have tried seems to be working. General suppression efforts — cracking down — "cannot solve this problem," the study group asserts.

Why should it matter to South Florida readers that L.A.'s gang problem is spinning out of control? Tailpipe brings it up because of the lead from a South Florida Sun-Sentinel story published recently that nearly made him choke on his morning bagel:

"Los Angeles knows a thing or two about gangs and how to combat them. That's why West Palm Beach police are borrowing a tactic that has helped: gang injunctions."

Say what?

Sure enough, last week the West Palm Beach City Commission voted to emulate Los Angeles by trying out something called "gang injunctions." Boynton Beach plans on following suit.

There's no denying that gang activity is rising in Palm Beach County, and law enforcement there has been slow to respond. But all of a sudden, these local towns are fighting back by saying, with a straight face, that they think Los Angeles has the answer to fighting gangs.

Which is like saying that you want to improve the local environment by borrowing a page from Love Canal.

You see, this Tailpipe spent many years adding to the pollution of L.A., and he can tell you that at least part of the gang problem in that fair city is exacerbated by its get-tough police force, which for years figured the best way to deal with anyone with a gang tattoo was with a nightstick upside the head.

Gang injunctions, an L.A. invention, only reinforce the notion that police are more interested in harassing gang members than fighting gang crime. You see, under an injunction, named gang members not only can't engage in activities that are normally against the law (like gangbanging); they also can be arrested for otherwise legal things like standing together on a street corner.

In L.A., a close examination of the fine print in a gang injunction showed that two gang members couldn't, legally, be seen in public together. And they were brothers. So it's no wonder that civil libertarian types take a dim view of such injunctions.

Some law enforcement folks do too. In Pasadena, for example, a California city that's a lot closer in size to West Palm Beach than Los Angeles is, Chief Bernard Melekian has enjoyed years of effective control of gangs, and he hates gang injunctions.

"They're short-term solutions. A band aid... I don't believe in them," says the chief, even after gang violence flared up in his town recently after years of record low levels. But he admits that they're popular with politicians.

"It's become the rage now that gang violence is flaring up again," he says. But even if an injunction allows West Palm police to round up all 40 named gang members, "You just create 40 opportunities for promotion" in the gang, Melekian says.

West Palm Beach police Capt. Daniel Sargent says he's aware of the criticisms of gang injunctions, like making it illegal for family members to be seen together in public. And he says that, with only 40 problem gang members in the Ace Click gang that they're looking at, the department should be able to avoid some of the pitfalls. West Palm's is a small problem that he doesn't want to grow into a big problem. "We don't have any national gangs operating in our city, knock on wood," Sargent says. "Some L.A. gangs have actually reached Miami. We don't want them to come up here."

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