Salinas police to launch anti-gang effort

Herald Staff Writer

A team of law enforcement officers whose objective will be to target gangs in Salinas is expected to hit the city Thursday.

While details are being kept confidential, law enforcement officials say they are launching what will be a highly visible and aggressive suppression and enforcement effort aimed at disturbing gangs — an effort similar to one that took place in 2004.

“We are going to take this as an offensive measure against gang members and their activity and hopefully have an impact,” said Salinas police Cmdr. Bob Eggers, who has been appointed to oversee the initiative dubbed Operation Impact.

The initiative is the result of discussions that began in September when Salinas police asked the California Highway Patrol and the county Sheriff’s Office to join it in the fight against gang crime.

Both agencies, in addition to the county Probation Department and the state Department of Corrections Parole Division, have agreed to help.

This year, Salinas has had 20 slayings, all but one deemed gang-related, and more than 130 shootings, according to police.

“This is absolutely unacceptable … as law enforcement we must react to that,” Police Chief Daniel Ortega said during a news conference Tuesday at City Hall.

He was joined by Sheriff Mike Kanalakis, Capt. Scott Lynch of the CHP Salinas office, other law enforcement officials and community leaders.

Ortega said the anti-gang operation is a direct response to the surge in violent crime in the city this year.

But calling in outside help is not an indication that the gang problem is overwhelming his department, Ortega said. Rather it is a necessary move to respond to the constant call from the community for action to reduce crime without compromising other areas of service, he said.

Eggers said that as part of the operation police patrols will increase around the city with an undisclosed number of sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers assigned to Salinas.

To maximize resources, a number of Salinas officers who volunteered to work on the gang team have been pulled off their regular shifts and assignments so they can focus on gang activity, Eggers said.

While a police gang task force already exists, those officers cover all of Monterey County. The team assembled for this initiative will work entirely in Salinas.

Police would not say how many officers are involved in the anti-gang operation or its projected duration.

The department has not calculated how much the operation will cost, but about $56,000 has been spent to get it up and running, Eggers said. It is expected that there will be overtime pay as a result of the effort.

But police say it will be money well spent.

In late 2004, a similar operation called Safe Streets, was conducted in Salinas and North County and involved 16 law officers from CHP and the Sheriff’s Office.

Ortega said during that effort — operated in two phases, from Sept. 23 to Oct. 17, and from Nov. 17 to Dec. 13 — crime declined in several categories including homicide, assault with deadly weapons and robbery.

“Any time you can get into an area, whatever the problem is, (visible) patrol efforts lower the problem,” Lynch said. “We are very confident that we will have a positive impact on the city of Salinas.”

Lynch said his officers will focus on traffic violations. Salinas police report that, in addition to drive-by shootings, many crimes that take place involve vehicles.

But one of the criticisms police faced during their 2004 effort was police profiling. Eggers said officers do not profile the people they stop.

“The only person that’s going to get stopped is someone who violates the law,” he said.

The cost for CHP’s involvement, which will be determined by the duration of the operation, will be covered by a grant from the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program to help with gang crime in communities, Lynch said.

Kanalakis said his office will likely have overtime expenses for the deputies who will patrol and assist with the transportation of people arrested during the operation.

Whatever benefits may come from the operation only be temporary, Ortega said.

“Anytime you are talking suppression, and suppression only, it’s going to be short-term,” he said.

Ortega said efforts to increase literacy and intervention are needed to address the root of the gang problem and will offer the long-term solutions the community seeks.

Salinas Councilman Tony Barrera said that parents are a critical piece of the fight on gangs.

“I think that it’s important that we look at our children and what’s happening in our own home, because a lot of times when we hear about gang violence or gang members we think that they are out there, but actually they are in our homes,” he said.

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