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Calif. Police Says Joint Operation Gets Handle on Gangs; Streets Become Safer

By Dania Akkad, The Salinas Californian

Operation Safe Streets -- a zero-tolerance, joint-agency crackdown on crime in Salinas -- has made a visible difference in reducing violence in the city since it began in September, police say.

"It's going fantastic," Salinas police Chief Dan Ortega said this week. "It's another example of a true law enforcement partnership helping the community out there."

Safe Streets entails an aggressive and highly visible patrol of Salinas neighborhoods by the Salinas Police Department and the California Highway Patrol, with help from the Monterey County Sheriff's Office.

For the ongoing effort, CHP officers have concentrated on stopping people who commit routine traffic violations, both to catch those potentially fleeing from crimes and to give city officers more time to focus on gang violence.

During the first four weeks of Safe Streets, there was a marked decrease in law-breaking incidences compared with the two previous months, said Salinas police Lt. Steve Perryman.

For example, one homicide has taken place during the operation, while four homicides occurred in the eight weeks preceding it. Also since Safe Streets began, the city has seen a 48 percent drop in attempted homicides, a 70 percent drop in robberies and 53 drop in felony assaults, he said.

"Those types of numbers reflect that we were doing something pretty good," Perryman said.

There also have been 127 felony adult arrests and 400 misdemeanor adult arrests since the program started. Moreover, police have seized five firearms and eight weapons -- including knives, bats and clubs, he said.

"That's a lot," Perryman said. "That was a definite increase."

The operation, teaming law enforcement officers together, has brought with it opportunities for learning different parts of the law from one another.

"They are experts in the field bar-none when it comes to vehicle-code issues," Perryman said of CHP officers. "When they get involved in some types of investigations they aren't used to ... we've got a lot of experience with that."

Ortega said he will especially focus on comparing last year's crime statistics during the holidays with the operation's results over the next few weeks as the season often brings a spike in crime.

For now, he said, the operation has been successful.

"I believe it accomplished what we set out to accomplish and that was to get a handle on the gang violence that has been going on there right now," Ortega said.

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