Concerned about escalating gang warfare in San Diego, Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Police Chief Bob Burgreen announced Monday the creation of a Special Enforcement Division to identify and arrest illegal gang members and reduce drive-by shootings on city streets.
“Whenever two gang members get together on a street corner to plot illegal activity,” Burgreen said, “there’s going to be a police officer standing there, too, staring them in the face.”
The new program was called for by the mayor, who as part of her State of the City address earlier this year pledged that the city would do more to turn back the growing number of gang members and street violence that has hit San Diego in recent years.
Detail to Begin Friday
The Special Enforcement Division will pull together 86 officers and supervisors from the department’s Street Gang Detail, WE CAN program, Tactical Squad and SWAT team. Their work will begin Friday night when the officers, both in uniform and undercover, begin saturating neighborhoods where gang activity has caused street violence and fear among residents.
The officers will concentrate on arresting felons engaged in gang activity, developing tips about violence and removing assault rifles and other illegal weapons from the streets.
In the past, gang detail detectives have worked during the day, tracking developments in drug dealing and other illegal gang activity only after related crimes occurred. The new division, Burgreen said, will be responsible for diffusing illegal activity before it happens. He said a greater police presence in high-crime areas may slow the crimes committed by the city’s 2,000 known gang members.
22,000 Drug Arrests
There were 96 drive-by shooting incidents last year, resulting in eight deaths and 54 injuries. During that period, police made more than 22,000 drug arrests in the city.
“Violence in our community is beyond where it should be,” Burgreen said. “Gangs and drive-by shootings are terms that are just becoming too well-known and must be stopped.”
Most gang-related violence occurred in the downtown, southeastern and eastern sections of the city. Several locations have been targeted for initial attention by the new division, including 30th and Imperial Avenue; the 3700 to 4300 blocks of National Avenue; 45th and Logan Avenue, Skyline Drive and Meadowbrook Drive, and Imperial Avenue and Ozark Street.
In many of those areas, community activists, police officials and city leaders have held marches to spotlight the growing gang and drug problems. Councilman Wes Pratt, whose district includes much of the area to be targeted by the new gang unit, said the effort would work only if police make it an “aggressive action.”
“We’ve walked, we’ve talked, we’ve prayed and we’ve done all that we can,” he said. “And now this new division is the most important thing we can do.”
Citizen Support Needed
The mayor said the new division will be successful only if community residents can overcome their fear and work with police to stop the gang assaults. She said her recent anti-crime walks through the inner-city revealed that many residents in the Southeast feel controlled by gang leaders.
“Most people were afraid to come out of their houses,” she said. “They were afraid of retaliation.”
Burgreen said that, because the new division is being staffed with officers from existing units, there will be no reduction in regular street patrols by uniformed officers. But there will be a slight reduction, he said, in police services such as the Walking Enforcement Campaign Against Narcotics and the police units that deal with the downtown homeless population. “You can’t do this kind of work and not expect some reduction in service,” he said.
The new division will at first be situated at police headquarters downtown, but police are exploring the option of moving the operation to a satellite facility. A location near the 30th and Imperial intersection has been proposed, and police are scheduled to report on its feasibility to the mayor and City Council within 60 days.