In a sequel to its highly touted “Operation Blue Rag,” in which 77 Crip gang members were arrested for drug sales, law enforcement officials rounded up 96 more Crip and Blood gang members during “Operation Red Rag” in East and Southeast San Diego over the past three days.
The five-month “Red Rag” operation, so named to target the Piru, or Blood, gang members, who favor red handkerchiefs, mirrored “Blue Rag,” a nine-month investigation that involved the West Coast Crips, who have adopted blue as their color.
The 96 arrested in “Red Rag” is the single largest sweep of gang members in San Diego’s history, officials said, and will be repeated.
As in its initial operation, which ended last March, the San Diego Police Department used a former gang member as a confidential informant armed with money seized in previous drug raids to make dozens of drug buys, including rock cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, over five months.
The investigations differed in two ways. While “Blue Rag” included an informant wired for sound, “Red Rag” included audiotaped and videotaped locations where the informant would lure gang members before making buys. Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller said the tapes will help make convictions easier when the cases get to trial, probably before Christmas.
The second difference, investigators said, was the ease with which the “Red Rag” informant was able to make buys from both Crip and Blood gang members. Police had targeted the Bloods, but found that their informant was able to move easily through Crips gang areas.
Of the 77 arrested during “Blue Rag,” half are out of jail after serving six months or less. With 96 more arrested, the two operations had an impact on more than 4% of the 3,900 gang members registered with the police gang unit.
The relatively small percentage, law enforcement officials said, is significant because the gang members targeted were among the most violent, most prone to get involved in drive-by shootings, and the most heavily involved in dealing drugs.
“The percentage of people we took out is not as important as who we took out,” said police Sgt. Ross Stone, who led the department’s investigation.
The operation also included help from the district attorney’s office, the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and the county’s probation department. “We may have 3,900 gang members out there, but many of them are not as hard-core as others,” he said. “Anybody can say he’s in a gang, but he may not be involved in drive-by shootings or other violent crime.”
Police Chief Bob Burgreen said the “Blue Rag” operation “kicked a hole, a big hole into the Crips” of San Diego. “They are not back to where they were before, and it will take months and months for them to recover and get back into place.”
Although 96 were arrested over the past three days, 112 gang members, representing 13 gangs, were charged. The rest were being sought Thursday.
All but 12 were local gang members--representing groups with names like the “Eastside Piru” and “Upside Sic.” The rest were from Los Angeles gangs, like the “Raymond Avenue Crips” and the “L.A. Pueblo Bishop Crips.”
The district attorney’s office charged nine people and used the county grand jury to indict 76 more. The U.S. attorney general’s office used a federal grand jury to indict 14. Eleven were charged in juvenile court, and two had their probations revoked.
The district attorney’s office rarely uses the county grand jury to lodge criminal charges. But, with the June passage of Proposition 115, which did away with lengthy preliminary hearings following grand jury indictments, prosecutors can charge and bring defendants to trial more quickly. The absence of preliminary hearings also keeps confidential informants from having to testify until trial.
The arrests began at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, when more than 100 officers representing six state and federal agencies began making arrests in East San Diego, Emerald Hills, Logan Heights, Lincoln Park, near Skyline Drive, near John F. Kennedy Park and other areas.
Most of the suspects were in their late teens and mid-20s. More than half had prior felony convictions, and seven were suspects in gang-related murders or attempted murders, the district attorney’s office said. Twenty are on parole and 20 more are on active probation.
Investigators confiscated seven weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun and AK-47.
As in the “Blue Rag” operation, which used a confidential informant to set up the drug buys and then testify against his former gang colleagues, “Red Rag” used an informant who has been placed in the federal Witness Protection Program and moved out of San Diego until the cases goes to trial.
The informant used $30,000 that had been seized in previous raids to buy drugs from suspected gang members.
Miller said he wants as few trials as possible in order to protect the informant and keep him out of public view as much as possible.