Police Announce Outcome of Federal Partnership Targeting Gang Members
San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix
October 07, 2010
SANTA CRUZ — Police have nabbed 42 people for narcotic, gang and other offenses and seized guns, drugs and cash during a five-month-old partnership with federal drug and immigration officials, officers announced Wednesday.
In a packed roll call room at the Santa Cruz Police Department, investigators displayed 10 guns and numerous plastic bags filled with about $25,000 cash plus chunks of cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and marijuana gained in an effort dubbed Operation Southern Exposure. The name reflects the gangs the operation targets.
Santa Cruz police entered a partnership with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Agency in May, after a spike in violence that included murders of two Santa Cruz teens who crossed the path of alleged gang members.
“We are completely thrilled with the results to date,” DEA agent Amie Clarke said. “There have been some significant arrests.”
Of the 42 people arrested, nine were detained by immigration officials, six were Mara Salvatrucha gang members and three were Sureño gang members, said Joe Vincent, a special agent in a San Jose ICE office serving four counties.
Vincent said the operation is focused on catching violent gang members, not specifically on deporting illegal immigrants.
“Unfortunately, there is an element of MS 13 in Santa Cruz,” he said.
Authorities say Mara Salvatrucha is a violent gang, which originated with Salvadoran immigrants in the Los Angeles area.
Santa Cruz gang officer Bill Azua said there are fewer Mara Salvatrucha gang members in town than there were in the 1990s but couldn’t give a specific number.
“They are still around, but due to law enforcement activity, they have learned to go deep underground,” Azua said. “They are not like Sureños, who hang out on street corners. They are more covert.”
Key local players in the partnership include the Santa Cruz police gang unit and the countywide Anti-Crime Team. The team, long headed by Department of Justice commander Rich Westphal, was formerly called the Narcotics Enforcement Team.
The success of the collaboration is evidenced by the seizures, Interim Police Chief Kevin Vogel said.
Drugs seized include more than 10 ounces of methamphetamine, more than 1 kilo of cocaine, 7.5 grams of crack cocaine, more than 12 ounces of heroin, 2.3 pounds of marijuana and 3,850 ecstasy pills.
He said the amount of guns recovered is troubling and that officers found one loaded handgun Tuesday night during an undercover drug operation in Beach Flats, he said.
“I’m concerned officers are coming in such close physical contact with these guys who are armed,” Vogel said. “We’re very pleased with the results, but it’s clear their is still more work to be done.”
There have been seven Santa Cruz police officers dedicated to the operation, Sgt. Jon Bush said.
“We hit it hard this summer due to the increase in violence,” he said. “And there will be continuing pressure.”
Vogel declined to say how long the operation would continue, but said the partnership with the federal agencies will not end anytime soon. Solving the city’s recent homicides is a priority, he said.
On April 23, 19-year-old Carl Reimer of Santa Cruz was shot at Mission Garden apartments, in what police say was likely a gang-related attack. The suspect was described as a thin Latino man, 5 feet 7 inches tall, wearing dark clothing.
On Oct. 16 of last year, alleged gang members stabbed 16-year-old Tyler Tenorio to death on the street near the intersection of Chestnut and Laurel streets. Three men have been arrested and charged with murder and two others have been identified but not located. Ivan Ramirez, 23, of Capitola and Paulo Luna, 23, are believed to have fled the area.
Operation Southern Exposure:
Partnership between Santa Cruz police, ICE, the DEA and the Santa Cruz County Anti-Crime Team started in May.
42 people arrested: nine were detained by ICE, six were Mara Salvatrucha gang members and three were Sureño gang members.
Drugs seized include 10 ounces and 24 grams of methamphetamine, 1 kilo and 4 ounces of cocaine, 7.5 grams of crack cocaine, 12 ounces and 6 grams of heroin, 2 pounds and 3 ounces of marijuana and 3,850 ecstasy pills.