Douglas Quan, The Press Enterprise
TEMECULA, Calif. -- Some days, all it takes is a call from an informant, and they're
off and running.
On other days, such as when they're doing surveillance on a
house, the work can be long and monotonous.
Whatever kind of day they're having, their schedules are always
The Temecula police Special Enforcement Team is small -- it
consists of just two deputies -- but the work they do is crucial
to the department's crime-fighting arsenal, said Sgt. Rich Rile,
who supervises the team.
Unlike uniformed patrol officers, whose jobs are to respond from
one call to the next, and who have limited resources, the
plain-clothed members of S.E.T. try to identify patterns and
"In terms of the community view, you're making a big impact,"
Tackling street narcotics
In the two years it has existed, the team has dedicated much of
its resources to tackling the problem of street-level narcotics,
especially marijuana and methamphetamine. The people they're
targeting aren't the big-time drug dealers, and the seizures they
make are typically no more than an eighth of an ounce.
But when residents see S.E.T. moving in to make a bust, they
come out cheering, Rile said. That's because the drug trade,
whether it's happening on a large or small scale, affects the
quality of life of residents living on that block. "It may be
low-level dealing, but it's very visible."
In an average month, the team -- armed with a trunk-full of
binoculars, night vision equipment, Polaroids and drug-testing
kits -- will make eight to 12 felony arrests. The team will
often work in conjunction with the four members of the
department's Problem Oriented Policing team, which is a more
visible, community-oriented squad.
They also work with the multi-agency Southwest Corridor Task
Force, which goes after high-level drug dealers.
Murrieta to get team
This and other Special Enforcement Teamshave been so successful
that the Murrieta police will soon be launching their own team.
A Murrieta team existed a few years ago, but was scrapped for budget
reasons. Now, the department has committed to keeping the team
intact, said Sgt. Bob Davenport.
Davenport said he anticipates one of his team's first priorities
will be to set up crime-free multihousing programs in the city.
Deputies will work with apartment managers and business owners
to teach them how to better crime-proof their properties.
Like Temecula's team, Murrieta's will be expected to jump on a
problem as soon as it develops, whether it's a string of vehicle
burglaries, vandalism or drugs.
"We can focus on a problem to get it resolved," Davenport said.
"We'll be the hub of information on what's going on in the city."
Informants are key
The use of informants is a key part of the job, said Deputy
Michelle Larson, half of Temecula's S.E.T. Most days typically
begin with calls to informants culling for information. Who's
selling? Who's buying? Where?
On lucky days, informants will call with a juicy tip. Recently
the team received a tip that a group of students at Temecula
Valley High School had left for school under the influence of
When they got to the school, the students displayed the telltale
signs: fluttering eyelids, nervousness, dry mouth, dilated pupils.
"It's important to build a rapport with people," Larson said.
This way, they'll feel comfortable coming forward with
information. Some informants can get the jitters, and get
worried about being labeled "rats," she said.
At the same time, the team has to be careful it doesn't become
too familiar to people in the community. "We want to meld in. We
want to go to different places and not be seen immediately as law
Rile said the existence of S.E.T. in the two cities should only
improve the exchange of information.
"There's no border. Murrieta's problems are Temecula's and
vice-versa," he said. "We accomplish more by working with them
and they can help us."