Novato’s police chief said a two-week concentrated effort to was a rousing success, but continuing the effort is unlikely because of the lack of available personnel.
The department started July 20 with its ad hoc gang enforcement/street crimes unit using existing officers and no more overtime than usual, Chief Joseph Kreins said Thursday. But other important tasks were put on hold so extra anti-gang patrols could be scheduled.
Officers made contact with 37 members or associates of gangs, including Crips, Surenos, Nortenos and white supremacists. Six were arrested and face felony charges.
Novato PD committed two detectives, a sergeant and two officers to work with representatives from the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, the Marin County Coordination of Probation Enforcement team, San Rafael police and the Marin County Probation Department.
Why can’t it just continue?
“You can only stretch the scheduling adjustments so far,” Kreins said. “Those two investigators we pulled off … their cases didn’t go away for two weeks. Those two patrol officers, their teams were at minimum staffing while they were away. So while they were working on the gang suppression, all that other work was piling up.”
Kreins’ department staffing is at 55 sworn officers — matching a level of 20 years ago — and is about a dozen fewer than San Rafael or Petaluma. He said the return on investment with the temporary anti-gang unit was very high, but he will continue to lobby for two officers to focus on anti-gang efforts full-time. He said that would cost the city about $250,000 annually.
“I’ve lobbied for that since the day I got here,” he said. “Even just having two officers on that assignment would pay tremendous dividends. In my opinion, if we were going to spend some money, this is the most bang for our buck. I just don’t think there’s a more important need out there. The results speak for themselves.”
Other results of the experiment included:
— Approximately 92 traffic stops on suspected gang members.
— 17 misdemeanor arrests of gang members.
— 8 probation searches.
— 26 hours of foot patrol in areas known for gang activity.
— Sharing of gang intelligence with allied agencies.
— Seizure of weapons and drugs.
— Vehicle impounds.
Novato police Lt. Keith Heiden said ultimately it will be for the chief to decide what happens next, but he was pleased with the information gathered during the stepped-up enforcement period.
“It was interesting to see the different types of gangs we contacted,” he said. “Personally the one I was surprised about was the Crips member (out of Southern California).
“I can tell you it was satisfying because when we get into police work it’s because we want to help somebody, but we also like to be proactive and suppress crime if we can. Part of helping people is protecting people, and these types of operations make our city safer.”
Kreins said the benefits of the two-week enforcement period will be long-term because of the contacts made in the gangs and other peripheral associates. Identify gang members now, even if they are not arrested for breaking any laws, is part of the intelligence gathering process that can really aid crime investigators down the line, he said.
“If nothing else, this has them looking over their shoulders,” he said.