If you were among the thousands who spent some leisure time on Pacific Coast Highway in Signal Hill last summer, you might have seen Mary Risinger milling with the crowds, dressed in a tank top, shorts and sandals and looking for all the world just like any other college student.
But Risinger is not a student, and unlike most of the other strollers, she wasn't there to window shop. Signal Hill Police Department Senior Investigator Risinger and her co-workers were more concerned with catching men soliciting prostitutes.
The July project was part of an experimental program being tested by the Seal Beach, Signal Hill and Los Alamitos police departments.
The program allows the three small departments to run large-scale operations that they couldn't work alone, mostly in narcotics and vice. For each special project, four or five officers are pulled from each of the three 40- to 50-officer departments to create a special task force numbering 12 to 15 persons.
"We're all small agencies; we're all generalists. We just plain don't have the time, manpower and equipment to work narcotics and vice alone," said Los Alamitos Police Department Commander Gary Biggerstaff.
Risinger's co-workers in the program aren't the same faces she sees in the office every day--they are people she first met in May. And they are officers whom local criminals will not recognize, which makes it much easier for the detectives to do their jobs.
"I can't go anywhere in my city where somebody doesn't know me--you can't just walk into a bar and try to buy drugs when everybody knows you're a cop," Risinger said.
But put Risinger to work in Seal Beach, move some Los Alamitos detectives to Signal Hill and a few Seal Beach officers to Los Alamitos and you've got an entirely new and very effective operation.
Risinger's team arrested 26 suspects in just six hours. Chief Detective David Van Holt of Seal Beach points to records that show three Seal Beach narcotics arrests in September, 1987, one in September, 1988, and 22 in September of this year.
And Risinger's statistics show records in seizures of drugs and assets since the program started in May. Since that time, nearly $20,000 in assets has been collected, along with more than 380 pounds of marijuana, 57 grams of cocaine, 30 grams of methamphetamine, and an assorted collection of rifles and guns.
In Los Alamitos, two of three businesses that police knew to be involved with prostitution have been shut down. According to Biggerstaff, the third won't last much longer.
"The program is progressing really well," Van Holt said. "In fact, we hear from the street that they (criminals) are getting a lot more paranoid."
Program coordinators find that their new cooperative is doing something they never expected: turning a profit.
The $20,000 seized so far will be split three ways among the departments. Much of this money will help offset overtime expenses related to the program.
But Risinger stressed: "This is not a money-making operation. We're doing this to reduce the crime rate and get drugs off the street."