Police-Community Plan: Rumblings Among Success Stories : On the Beat: Truants, Drugs, Transvestites
El Cajon Boulevard is hopping with activity as Officer Ron Manaigre chases one radio call after another. In the first two hours on his evening watch, Manaigre responds to two traffic accidents, a minor disturbance, an intoxicated man on the street, a report of a stolen motorcycle and a dispute between neighbors.
During a brief lull between calls, Manaigre spots a tan Datsun pickup with a smashed headlight and decides to issue the driver a citation to “let the boss know we’re out here working.” But when the pickup pulls into a convenience store parking lot, Manaigre backs off.
“The department prefers we don’t write tickets in front of businesses,” Manaigre explains. “It’s a PR thing.”
Public relations is taken seriously at the San Diego Police Department, where officers are taught to promote a positive image on the streets.
A few days later in Southeast San Diego, however, six patrol officers, three plainclothes policemen and two gang detail detectives follow a pickup truck carrying five Latino youths into a parking lot in front of the Bel Air Market and Niran’s Mexican Food shop. The youths are handcuffed and forced up against the truck as a sergeant searches the cargo area for a PCP-laced cigarette. The sergeant tosses a foam mattress, a pair of blankets, old socks and pieces of wood onto the parking lot before finding it.
A large crowd gathers to watch the action at 45th and Logan streets, a corner where drug busts and violent outbreaks are commonplace. All traffic freezes in front of the two businesses.
“It needs to be understood we are going after PCP in the black community, and we’re going hard,” Deputy Police Chief Norm Stamper said in explaining the heavy police presence. “We make no apologies for it.”
Ten years ago, the San Diego Police Department introduced a new style of law enforcement that was designed to dramatically alter the way officers patrol their beats. Instead of responding to a series of radio calls, officers were encouraged to walk their beats, conduct neighborhood meetings and get to know community leaders, retail shop owners and residents on a first-name basis. The concept was called Community Oriented Policing (COP).
In general, COP has been well-received by police officers, politicians and citizens, who say the program has raised the department’s public image and fostered a trusting relationship between citizens and police officers. But critics contend that the program has not worked as well in some areas such as Southeast San Diego, where police relations with the community remain tense.
A Times reporter recently accompanied 11 police officers throughout the city during different times of day to observe their interaction with citizens. The following is a reporter’s notebook of various scenes and events that took place during those rides.
Officer Art Roberts is the kind of cop the designers of COP had in mind when they introduced the experimental program in 1973. With his short haircut, neatly trimmed sideburns and khaki uniform, Roberts looks like a Boy Scout troop leader as he waves to citizens from his white patrol car. Roberts, unlike most officers, wears his seat belt at all times. Between the two front seats of his squad car is a hand-soap dispenser.
On his La Jolla beat, Roberts walks into the Town Council office to check for complaints and visits a woman at the La Jolla Recreation Center to inquire about a transient who recently fell asleep on a park bench. The Town Council representative reports that everything is calm and thanks police for removing two parked cars a couple of days earlier. The woman at the recreation center says the transient has not returned.
“We come in here and usually hear about petty things . . . speeders and parked cars,” Roberts says after making his round of checks. “This kind of thing doesn’t go on in Southeast San Diego. There’s no organized group of businesses or residents that can talk to officers in a congenial fashion. They get more emotional. It’s the same city, and it’s still crime. But one major crime can cost more money in La Jolla than 100 in Southeast San Diego.”
On most days, Roberts, 30, a six-year veteran who worked two years in the department’s Southeast division before being transferred north, could just as easily play the lead role in a modern-day episode of “Mayberry RFD.” His job is to keep La Jolla as clean as a newly polished Lamborghini. Many days are spent responding to false burglar alarms at million-dollar estates. With the holiday season approaching, Roberts expects to spend a good deal of his time helping little old ladies with poor memories find their Mercedes-Benzes after shopping.
On this midday shift, Roberts keeps a watchful eye on two men walking Prospect Street who he says are illegal aliens applying for work at a restaurant. He also tails the town’s only regular transient. Acting on a tip from a 7-Eleven clerk, Roberts approaches three Latino truants who are loitering in front of the store. He puts them in the squad car and drives them back to San Diego High School where they belong.
“They definitely are not the kind of characters I want roaming around my beat,” says Roberts. He adds that some delinquent youths use buses that transport minority students to magnet schools for transportation. “They skip school, ride the school bus to La Jolla, hit a few houses and and ride the bus back. The public is providing these crooks with free transportation. It’s amazing.”
Back on his beat, Roberts responds to a report of a brown Ford Maverick that was left at a Chevron station. He waits nearly an hour at the service station for the registered owner to claim the car.
In other parts of the city, police officers are often so busy responding to robberies, assaults and drug-related crimes that they rarely have time to stroll their beats and shake hands with citizens.
Police employ a special enforcement team in the department’s Southeast and Central divisions to crack down on small-time street drug dealers. The unit, headed by Sgt. Charles Mattingly, consists of two plainclothes officers and four uniformed officers in marked patrol cars. The team operates on its own radio frequency using call names like “Stormy,” “Flaps” and “Joker,” as well as “Crockett” and “Tubbs” from the television program “Miami Vice.”
Five days a week, the officers swoop down on known drug-dealing locations arresting suspects and confiscating drugs. The series of raids appears well-orchestrated as the team converges from all directions on an apartment, a house, a back alley or a storefront. Mattingly says there is no master plan; the officers basically wing it from one bust to the next.
When asked how the team picks the places to raid, Mattingly says, “It depends on what mood we’re in.”
He adds that information on many drug-dealing locations is provided by citizens who attend police-sponsored community meetings. More than half of the tips pan out.
On this day, the special enforcement team starts in late afternoon by driving past the 900 block of South 45th Street, a predominantly black section of Southeast San Diego. Two officers pull up behind a row of run-down apartment houses and order a man to put his hands on the car hood. They search him and find about $200 in cash and a cocaine rock the size of a small macadamia nut. Street value: about $100. The officers handcuff the man, place him in the back seat of a squad car and make their way to the next stop at 32nd and K streets.
Two squad cars pull up in front of Faiez Market Groceries, where two youths are hanging out. Mattingly points to the skinny one with the corn-row hair style and explains, “This guy hates us. We got him two days ago for a minor amount of dope. He threatened to kill us all so we took him in for threatening a police officer.”
The young man gets frisked and, when police find nothing, they release him.
Night falls. The special enforcement team stops the blue pickup truck full of five Latino youths at 45th and Logan streets for buying a cigarette dipped in PCP. After nabbing the seller, five officers with flashlights kick and comb their way through bushes down the street to hunt for more PCP. Mattingly explains that small-time dealers store their stash in bushes so they won’t get busted on possession charges.
At first, the search appears futile as tenants of a predominantly black apartment complex gather round to watch. Then, Officer James Boyd, the undercover officer who witnessed the buy with binoculars from a nearby yard, pulls up and points to a bush next to an apartment door. An officer pulls out a brown paper lunch bag containing five PCP cigarettes.
“Why, praise the Lord! We have PCP in your neighborhood,” the officer says in a phony Southern accent.
“Who are the dealers in your neighborhood . . . " another officer sings to the “Sesame Street” tune.
“We have to talk to Nurseryland about planting bushes that grow PCP,” suggests a third officer.
The celebrating stops when Mattingly issues a stern warning to the mother of two young children standing nearby.
“Do you know if the kids get ahold of that, it’ll kill ‘em,” Mattingly says, pointing to the bag. “That’s a known fact.”
“She don’t care,” Boyd says. “She sells it.”
Boyd is the only black officer working special enforcement. Because many people arrested in drug cases are black, he is often called “Spanky” by the black youths who want to make a racial issue out of being arrested by white officers.
As the officers carry the PCP cigarettes back to the parking lot in front of the Bel Air Market, where the buyers are in handcuffs, a black man approaches and says tauntingly, “We going to beat up on niggers tonight?”
“Want us to start on you?” Boyd says.
“Why don’t you go beat up on white boys,” the man shouts back.
Back at the station, the five youths who rode in the pickup truck are interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted. One of them is asked whom he would like police to contact upon his release.
“My wife,” the youth says.
“Who would be stupid enough to marry you?” the officer asks.
It is 3 a.m. Middle of the first watch. Beat 522. Southwest side of downtown. Officer Wayne Starr is driving down a dark side street when he recognizes a transvestite sitting next to the driver of a red Volkswagen parked near a curb.
“I’ve arrested this transvestite before for being under the influence,” Starr says as he makes a quick U-turn and pulls up behind the car. “He hates my guts.”
Starr puts his baton in his belt ring and cautiously approaches the car. The driver says he is from Los Angeles, is thinking of enrolling at San Diego State University and came downtown to check the action.
“Where’d you meet him?” Starr says, pointing to the transvestite in the blonde wig, falsies and black heels.
“I met her driving around,” the driver responds.
“You mean you met him driving around.”
“I didn’t know it was a him.”
“Well, you guys have a good night, huh?”
The driver’s face turns the same color as the transvestite’s red miniskirt.
Starr returns to the squad car smirking ever so slightly. He says transvestite prostitutes--known as “dudes,” “queens” or “TVs” in cop jargon--have become an increasing problem downtown. Since police can do little to thwart transvestites unless they witness sexual activity, many officers resort to embarrassing their clients.
Starr says that many transvestites easily fool naive, undiscriminating “johns” looking for sex because they are prettier than prostitutes. Police say they can spot a “queen” a mile away by the large Adam’s apple, large hands and feet, muscular thighs and 5 o’clock shadow.
Starr is sent to 8th Avenue and K Street, where four Columbia Security Patrol guards have flushed out two transients from a burned-out warehouse. One of the transients is on parole on a burglary charge. The other was taken into custody by police four hours earlier at the same location. The guards, who have put one transient in handcuffs and are yelling at the other, demand that both be arrested.
Starr puts the transients in the back of his squad car and courteously explains the nature of the charges. He admits the arrests are cheap before issuing citations and telling the transients not to return to the warehouse.
“Sometimes some of these security guys really get carried away with the program,” says Starr, obviously displeased with the way the situation was handled. “These poor guys just wanted a place to lay down their heads and (the security guards) treat them like they’re on the 10 Most Wanted list.”
On 10th Avenue, Starr encounters a drunk stumbling across the street against a red light. As Starr leaves his car, the drunk begins to shout. Starr tries to put the man in handcuffs, but he resists. As the two struggle on the street, Starr squeezes the man’s neck with his forearm. The man drops to the pavement and Starr snaps on the cuffs.
During the short trip to the station, the man slurs obscenities at Starr. He claims his rights have been violated and he has been unjustly beaten. At the station, he creates such a stir inside the car that three officers hog-tie his wrists and ankles together. As Starr waits in a line of six police cars outside the downtown County Jail, the man throws up in the back seat.
The man continues to groan and heave. Starr says: “It’s lovely working downtown.”
Starr drives the car to the station to hose down the back seat before changing vehicles. The week before he had to air out another car after a suspect urinated in the back seat.
Officer Manaigre is coasting along El Cajon Boulevard when he spots a familiar face hiding behind a power transformer. “I know that guy. He’s up to no good. There he goes running now. He’s a fighter.”
Manaigre radios that he is chasing the man south on 53rd Street and asks for a cover unit. He calls in the description of the man, who is wearing a red shirt and blue jeans.
Manaigre jumps out of the car. “Barry, how you doing?”
Barry, who is 30 but whose weathered face makes him look 45, explains that he is hiding from his mother, who is trying to force him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Manaigre tells Barry that it’s refreshing to see him “clean” for a change, even though to the casual observer he looks badly in need of a shave and a shower.
Barry smiles and asks for a lift to the Thrifty store on 57th Street. Manaigre opens the back door and lets him in. The car immediately reeks with the smell of booze.
“Barry, you made my night,” Manaigre says. “I’ve always seen you so zonkered that you can’t walk straight.”
Barry notes with excitement that he is about to walk away from a police car without handcuffs. As Manaigre opens the door, Barry says, “Hey brother, give me a hug.”
The two embrace and slap each other on the back.
Manaigre, his face beaming like a little boy on Christmas morning, explains that Barry has been blitzed on each of the four times he has met him. “You can smell the booze tonight, but that is nothing,” Manaigre says. “I could tell just by looking at him the man was sober.”
Barry has had a tough life with cops, Manaigre explains. The officer says he hopes that the ride will help ease Barry’s fear of police.
“What hurts here,” Manaigre says, “is if he gets in a minor scrap with another officer . . . and some cop says, ‘Hey dirt bag,’ and all that crap . . .
“Aw, I don’t know. They say you’re not supposed to take this job seriously. But I call it being human.”