U.S. Atty. Gen. William P. Barr said Friday that the federal program "Operation Weed and Seed" has shown more dramatic results here than in any of the other 20 cities where it is being tried.
"We're not declaring victory, but the initial indications are extremely encouraging," the nation's top lawyer said of the two-pronged program to weed out crime and seed neighborhood support programs in its place.
Since the federally funded program began in June, Santa Ana police have made 129 drug-related arrests in the densely populated neighborhood bounded by McFadden Avenue and Sullivan, 1st and Rait streets. Robberies and auto thefts decreased by half from June through August this year compared to last, police numbers show.
However, the crackdown in the neighborhood has not meant that crime has moved to just outside the target area. In the larger neighborhood surrounding and including the target area, burglaries dropped 36%, for example, and assaults dropped 44%.
But some residents said they were skeptical about the long-term effectiveness of the program, on which $1 million has been spent in Santa Ana alone.
"There is some concern that the seed portion is simply not there," said Jim Walker, chairman of the Communication Linkage Committee, which brings together the leaders of the city's neighborhood associations.
"All of their effort, excellent as it has been, will be to no avail if they don't have something for communities to take hold of and grow," Walker warned.
Barr said Congress has yet to approve millions of dollars intended to fund neighborhood support programs such as job training, the "seed" aspect.
"Hopefully, after (Congress reconvenes) in January, money will be available," he said during a morning press conference in Santa Ana.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said his office filed charges on 68 felony cases and 78 misdemeanor cases based on arrests from the weed-and-seed neighborhood program. Of those, a grand jury has indicted 31 people, he said. The office did not have comparative figures from last year.
Some residents of the targeted area said they supported the program's goals and noted they saw a noticeable improvement over last summer.
"I feel safer because there aren't as many people on the street" selling drugs, said Mali Ortiz, 29. Last summer, she said, the streets near her home were lined with drug buyers.
"So far so good," said another resident, who declined to give her name. The 57-year-old grandmother said she no longer has to worry about seeing people injecting drugs outside her house.
But some residents said the program came too late.
"It's a joke. You are outnumbered," Ansell Bostick said of law-enforcement officials. "You got too many people in the ballgame," he said.
Oliver Haddix, who has lived on Willits Street for about 30 years, said that "at night you still hear a lot of shooting."
Last week, a bullet ripped into a wall of his home, fired by an unknown gunman. Haffix stood in his yard, pointing to the hole about a foot from his bathroom window. "Maybe it's calmed down, but I don't know it," he said.
Santa Ana Police say their increased efforts this summer in the weed-and-seed neighborhood have resulted in more arrests and less crime. Officials also claim the crackdown in the densely populated area has not shifted crime to bordering areas of the city. Here are the number of crimes reported in five categories from June through July in the past two years.
Santa Ana's Central District
1991 1992 % Change Auto theft 228 227 -- Auto burglary 128 93 -27 Burglary 166 106 -36 Robbery 139 125 -10 Assault with a deadly weapon 102 57 -44 Total 763 608 -20
Source: Santa Ana Police Department