We’ve seen the stories on the evening news. It starts out with the anchor explaining that several law enforcement agencies took part in a day long, week long, months long operation where certain segments of the criminal society were targeted. The newscaster is explaining what happened while video of the officers in black tactical vests and blue jeans mill about. There is the obligatory shot of the handcuffed shirtless guy being put into a patrol car. Then they cut to the public information officer who explains why the agencies got together that day. The story ends with a picture of recovered guns, drugs, and money neatly placed on a table near the podium.
These multi-agency enforcement operations are worthwhile endeavors that take a tremendous amount of planning and organization. Our department recently concluded Operation Safe Summer III. The goal of the two day operation was to suppress crime in our area. Sergeant Bill Alexander began organizing the operation months in advance. He interacted with supervisors from several local agencies to acquire the personnel to do the enforcement. State parole and county probation helped determine which locations would be checked. Sergeant Alexander came up with a detailed information packet for each of the dozens of locations that were targeted during the two days. He made sure the operation occurred on our department in-service training days so our officers could participate and the city would not incur any overtime.
Integrating officers from several agencies into small teams is much more difficult than it sounds. There were officers and deputies from most of the surrounding police agencies as well as representatives from state and federal law enforcement. The participants were broken down into 8-10 person squads. Those groups were a blend of Lodi P.D. officers and/or supervisors with officers from the other departments. A team leader was appointed and they were responsible for the squad’s enforcement activities. The team leader had to figure out how the team members would communicate with each other and with our communications center. They also had to understand and adhere to our rules of engagement. The operation was very tightly controlled.
O.S.S. III officers searched close to two hundred locations, made over thirty arrests, found one methamphetamine lab and seized four guns in the two days.
Our detectives and S.W.A.T. team have participated in many joint operations like this over the years. Those events involved dozens of officers searching multiple locations throughout the county. The day usually began with a group briefing at a large venue such as the county fairgrounds or the National Guard facility. (Think John Wayne’s speech in The Longest Day).
Armored vehicles and marked police cars of various sizes and colors were lined up outside. The host agency had already decided what the focus of the operation would be. Sometimes it was gangs and sometimes it was a large narcotics network spread across the county. The SWAT teams and special investigations personnel split up and rendezvoused near the target location. They could end up searching from one to five places that day. All of the teams sitting at different places across the county hit the first house on their list at the same time. The coordination is very impressive.
Some might ask if all of the time and effort is worth it. A lot of the people picked up during these operations are released from custody for various reasons. I would counter that argument with the fact that no one, including hardened criminals, likes being arrested and handcuffed. No one likes having their house searched or having their kids or neighbors see them put into a patrol car, shirtless, for a trip to jail. No criminal likes that unsettling feeling in the back of their mind that the cops will undoubtedly be back someday. I’m sure some of the people arrested during O.S.S. III probably seriously weighed the pros and cons, no pun intended, of moving out of Lodi.
Is it worth it? That question can probably be answered best by the people who would have fallen victim to those four guns that Operation Safe Summer took off of the street for good last week.