MET concentrates its energy on dealing with city’s gangs

Jesse B. Gill, The Sun Staff Writer
Posted: 01/31/2009 05:05:57 PM PST
REDLANDS – When the cops in the green shirts show up, there is a good chance someone is going to jail.

The green-shirt clad officers are members of the Redlands Police Department’s Multiple Enforcement Team.

The MET consists of a sergeant, a corporal and, for now, six officers. The team conducts patrols, surveillance and arrests – all for the purpose of getting bad guys off of Redlands streets.

“Our job is to get out there and look for trouble,” said MET officer Mike Merriman.

To find trouble, most of MET’s time is spent dealing with Redlands gangs.

Gangs

Two major gangs populate Redlands’ north side – North Side Redlands and Vario Redlands. Both are Hispanic gangs that pay taxes to the Mexican Mafia, Merriman said.

Recently, members of other gangs have filtered into north Redlands.

West Side Verdugo gang members normally hail from Rialto, but they have been spotted in Redlands regularly, MET Sgt. Mike Reiss said.

Mayfield said he has noticed members of Los Angeles Crip sets populating apartments along Post Street. Reiss said he has noticed Blood gang members near Cero Court.

The Hispanic and African-American gangs have not fought each other, but that does not mean they won’t in the future, Reiss said.

Part of the MET’s job is to know about a problem between the gangs before it happens – and to prevent it.

“As far as policing goes, you need a team like this out there hammering them or they’ll run wild,” Merriman said.

And because Redlands gangs make most of their money through drug sales – mainly methamphetamine – MET spends a lot of time working with the Police Department’s narcotics detectives to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs in the city.

“Everybody’s got drugs out here,” Merriman said.

On patrol

If the MET does not have a probation check to perform or a drug bust to run, they drive – a lot.

On Jan. 15, Merriman drove through the same northside neighborhoods over and over, looking for any kind of drug or gang activity.

When he came across people walking down the street in the dark, he stopped them, questioned them, and sent them on their way when he found out they weren’t causing trouble.

MET officers also make traffic stops – a lot of them.

But if the traffic stop will yield only a speeding ticket, MET officers will issue a warning and let the driver go because officers want major felony arrests, not traffic tickets.

“We leave that up to patrol,” Merriman said. “We don’t want to get into anything that’s going to slow us down.”

MET officers rarely patrol south past State Street.

The team spends most of its time in neighborhoods north of Interstate 10, east of Texas Street, west of Church Street and south of San Bernardino Avenue. Merriman said the area is where most of Redlands’ gang activity goes on.

“It’s like fishing,” Merriman said. “If you’re in the right part of the lake, you’re going to catch some fish.”

Ready for trouble

Because the MET is out there looking for trouble, its members need to be ready to deal with they find it.

The MET officers take their physical fitness seriously. Many of them work out together before their shifts start.

Reiss, 36, said the difference between living through a physical altercation and being taken away in a body bag is how good a shape the officers are in.

Recently, Reiss’ fitness was put to the test when an ex-Marine with post-traumatic stress disorder attacked him.

On Jan. 3, Reiss approached the man, who was standing at the street corner about 1 a.m., and tried to question him but he was uncooperative.

When Reiss came closer, the man grabbed him around the waist and tackled him to the ground. Reiss fought the man until backup arrived.

And backup did not arrive right away.

“I looked back at the log, and from the time I called for a backup and the time they got there was like three minutes and three seconds,” Reiss said. “I was exhausted. You try fighting an ex-Marine for three minutes. If you’re not in good shape, you’re going to (lose).”

First-name basis

Knowledge and memory are as important to the job as hardened muscles and deep lungs.

When the MET officers speak to each other about the people they have stopped or arrested, they use first names. The officers get to know the people they come in contact with on an everyday basis.

If the MET officers encounter someone they don’t know, crude tattoos, scribbled in green ink, can often help them learn what they need to know.

Each of the MET officers asks the same question when they make traffic or pedestrian stops.

“What kind of tattoos do you have, man?”

Tattoos tell a story, Mayfield said. If people claim to not have identification on them, their tattoos can tell police what they need to know about where they’ve been or what gang they are affiliated with.

Other MET members know people by their first names because they’re involved in the northside community.

During football season, Reiss coaches a local Junior All-American team on the north side of town. When he runs into his former players on the street while he’s wearing his green MET shirt, his prior knowledge of the kids gives him an advantage.

First, Reiss knows the kids and he knows their parents.

Second, because he has coached the kids on the gridiron, the kids often have a respect for Reiss they do not show to the other MET officers.

“I’ve come up on kids that are cussing out the other guys on the team,” Reiss said. “But when I show up, they stop.

They call me coach and usually, they cooperate.”

espect

Showing respect, even to hardened gang members, allows the officers to form semi-polite relationships with people who represent everything police officers work to prevent.

“It’s all about respect, even to these guys,” said MET officer Tony Ortiz. “As long as you’re respectful and honest with them, they’re cool.

“And you never know when that respect you showed will come back and help you.”

The team calls its headquarters “the dungeon.” It is a small, dingy room in the basement of the Police Annex at 30 Cajon St. The office is cramped, the air conditioning doesn’t work and most of the flat space is occupied by computers or paperwork.

When the rest of the Police Department moved out of Safety Hall in September, the MET didn’t change its operations.

“We’ve always been in here,” Reiss said. “But it doesn’t matter because we’re out on the street all the time. We just need a place to write reports.”

Merriman said the definition of a MET officer is someone who wants to be on the street – making the cramped and dusty office irrelevant.

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 2:30 p.m. to 3 a.m., Redlands’ bad guys know the guys in green shirts are out looking for them.

“They know when we work,” Reiss said.

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