Thursday, October 23, 2008
Bring in the good guys with guns to stop the bad guys with guns.
“We know the dynamics of a good number of our shootings involve gang members driving around with guns,” says Cassie McSorley, Salinas’ deputy police chief. “When it becomes more risky to drive around with a gun inside of a car, we think that can have an effect on the violence.”
Salinas officials say a joint law enforcement operation is working– and decreasing crime on city streets. Launched on Oct. 16, “Operation Impact” increases traffic enforcement and steps up efforts to round up probation and parole violators. It’s a partnership between the police, California Highway Patrol, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, county probation department and the state Department of Corrections, Parole Division.
By the Weekly’s deadline, police had released details on two arrests made since the operation started. On Oct. 20, police arrested Thomas Haley on suspicion of gang-related gun charges when, during a probation search, police found him with two assault rifles, a handgun and ammunition for numerous weapons.
The day before, CHP officers pulled over 31-year-old Jerrad Cornell for talking on his cell phone while driving. Officers found 1.1 pounds of marijuana in his car, and state parole agents assigned to Operation Impact discovered 3.1 additional pounds of pot and some hashish. Cornell was arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sales and a parole violation.
McSorley says police are not yet releasing the operation’s arrest and patrol-stop statistics. She also declined to say how many law enforcement officers are assigned to the effort, and how long it will last.
While there are questions about whether police are targeting Latino males, McSorley says racial-profiling isn’t happening. “They are making stops and issuing citations to a whole cross-section of our community,” she says.
Aurelio Salazar, president of Salinas LULAC Council 2055, says his organization is keeping on eye on law enforcement activity. “If we do hear of any racial profiling, or we do hear of any officer misusing their power or being unprofessional,” he says, “we want to make sure that issue is addressed.”
And despite his concerns, Salinas two main gangs, Norteños and Sureños, are primarily Latino, Salazar says. “Law enforcement isn’t targeting the Latino community,” he notes. “It is a huge Latino problem that we have.”
Mayor Dennis Donohue says Operation Impact will give police a chance to go on the offense and disrupt the violence, which includes 20 homicides this year. Sending out the gang task force during shooting flare-ups had gotten pretty predictable, he says. “We got to look to break the cycle.”
Donohue says he wants to hold the first community meeting about the need for a larger police force near Fasting for Peace Week, which will be observed statewide Nov. 16-22. Additionally, Donohue says, during the next couple of weeks, the city’s Community Safety Alliance will roll out new billboards designed to deter youth from adopting gang lifestyle and organizing gang education meetings at worksites.
Although Operation Impact is focused on suppression, Donohue says the city is still committed to a multi-pronged gang-prevention and intervention effort. “I’m certainly not changing my message that we can arrest our way out of this problem,” he says.