The Orange County Crime Summit, held Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton, gave local law enforcement officials, government leaders, judges and educators an opportunity to discuss some creative solutions to crime.
The session drew more than 250 participants, including state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez and several police chiefs and judges.
Among the topics discussed: gang suppression techniques in Westminster; the concept of community policing used in Santa Ana and Garden Grove; the efforts of a county graffiti task force, and some of the Probation Department's solutions to juvenile crime.
"These kinds of conferences play a big role in helping an idea or a concept gain momentum and getting other cities on board," said Garden Grove Police Chief Stanley L. Knee, who championed community policing at the summit.
Community policing, a concept which places an emphasis on crime prevention over arrests and places police officers on neighborhood beats, was also being touted by Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters, a nationally recognized expert on the subject.
"It's phenomenal the success that we have had," said Walters. "Over 20 years, we've evolved, refined our methods and changed the way we do things in our community. If you don't include problem solving and crime prevention, then you are on an endless treadmill and you can't get off."
Westminster Police Chief James Cook talked about the sharp decline in gang activity since his city launched the gang enforcement program called TARGET, which involves teaming local police officers with prosecutors and probation officers in an effort to build criminal cases against hardened gang leaders in the community.
"We feel the impact on gang crime has been dramatic," Cook said. "We are making the community safer."
The event's keynote speaker, Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, discussed his proposal for a thorough review of the nation's drug laws. The judge repeated his controversial proposal to "decriminalize" the use of heroin, cocaine and marijuana, drugs that he suggests should be made available through "regulated distribution."
Gray has come under sharp attack from community leaders since he began publicizing his ideas on drug policies in 1992, but he was quick to defend his proposals at the summit.
"It only makes sense for an intelligent society to investigate our options," Gray said. "What we've been trying to do is to repeal the economics of supply and demand. We've made cocaine the most lucrative crop in the history of man because it's been made illegal."
Gray, who said he does not condone the use of drugs, said the legal distribution of some narcotics would take away the profit motive for dealers and reduce crime.
The judge's comments drew little reaction from the audience. But Garden Grove's Chief Knee said afterward that the judge "is a frustrated member of the judiciary who in his frustration perhaps seeks an easy or quick solution to a problem that is very complex.
"If you went to the drug store you couldn't buy penicillin over the counter, so it seems unrealistic that you could buy heroin off of the shelf like a pack of gum," Knee said. "We restrict use of medicines to restrict their abuse."