By Karl Fischer
The Contra Costa Times
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — After enduring a bloody wave of street violence that claimed 27 lives in three months, Richmond now looks to the California Highway Patrol to help stabilize a fragile peace in its flatland neighborhoods.
Today, a contingent of CHP officers will supplement city police patrols, working with beat officers to disrupt patterns of retaliatory gunfire between several feuding street factions.
The CHP frequently aids local departments — it has bolstered patrols in Oakland for the past six months. The agency last came to Richmond in the summer of 2005, when a 10-homicide June provoked community anger and political hand-wringing.
Public tension remains high. Repeated attacks during the last three months of 2007 accounted for more than half of Richmond's 47 killings for the year.
Unlike 2005, when law enforcement tried to make itself more visible to reassure the public and intimidate street criminals, the department plans to use the help for more targeted tasks, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said.
"Our hope is that we can not only take advantage of increased traffic-safety enforcement opportunities, but during those traffic stops (we can) also stop those individuals carrying guns, drugs and other contraband," he said. "The CHP officers will work at many times of day, in many places. ... There will be no formula or pattern."
Magnus asked the CHP for aid last month, when mounting public fear led to intense political pressure for and from elected officials
to quickly clamp down on the endemic street violence that has persisted in Richmond for decades.
"I've been talking about this for quite a while," said City Councilman John Marquez, chairman of the council's Public Safety Subcommittee. "This is an ideal process to help our police officers. It will help prevent so many people having guns on the street. The CHP will focus on vehicle code enforcement, and that in itself will help reduce the violence that is currently in our city."
As of Monday, Richmond police had investigated five killings in 2008 -- a robust number for this time of year, but nowhere near the pace that ended 2007.
During a packed subcommittee meeting in early January, Magnus urged council members to maintain faith in the department's intensely local, community oriented system of patrol beats.
"Really, it's a core group of individuals who are involved in a very high percentage of the violent crime," Magnus said Monday. "I firmly believe that beat officers, who know where these people live and hang out, are in the best position to help us find creative ways to make strong criminal cases against them."
To that end, CHP officers sometimes will pair with city officers to find and address problems more efficiently. Times, days and neighborhoods where CHP officers will work varies, Magnus said. He expects the CHP commitment to last for "months, at least" and possibly longer.
The CHP's Oakland office plans to supply as many as five or six two-officer cars on any given day, Magnus said.
"Through aggressive enforcement of traffic laws — we have made arrests on felony warrants — reduced the amount of drugs heading to the street and also reduced the number of weapons on the street — guns and knives," said CHP Officer Sam Morgan, spokesman for the Oakland-area office. "We also find and arrest probation and parole violators, that kind of thing."
The CHP specializes in traffic violations. That proves helpful in high-crime neighborhoods, where street criminals often carry guns and other contraband in their cars. A traffic stop that yields firearms removes some potential for street violence from the street.
When Richmond called for help in 2005, a dozen CHP officers worked on city streets during alternating two-week periods all summer, working with the city's now-defunct Violence Suppression Unit and a cadre of deputies from the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office.
Terry Hudson, the acting chief in 2005, credited the CHP with maintaining order in hot spots and contributing to the relative quiet of July 2005 — a month with no killings.
In a 2005 interview with the Times, former police Chief Bill Lansdowne said that a similar, sustained commitment from the CHP made a 52-homicide year in 1994 much safer than it could have been.
Copyright 2008 Contra Costa Times
Calif. department seeks CHP's aid