Minutes before sunrise Wednesday, Ramiro Pardo was roused from bed, handcuffed and taken to jail. So were 11 other suspected gang members across Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
Police had two warrants for the 20-year-old Pardo's arrest: one for failing to appear in court, another for violating probation.
He could have been arrested anywhere, any time. But with four gang-related homicides in Oxnard since September and 10 other assaults and attempted killings, police wanted to send gang members a hard-nosed message.
"An early-morning visit keeps them off balance," Oxnard Sgt. Dan Christian said. "We like to keep them guessing so they never know when or where we're coming from."
A combination of 54 officers--many borrowed from Simi Valley, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula and the Probation Department--raided 28 residences in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, looking to arrest, gather intelligence and intimidate.
Two hours later, 12 alleged gang members--nine of them juveniles--were sent to Juvenile Hall and County Jail in leg irons for a variety of probation violations and minor warrants. Police were left with a pile of gang scribblings, photos and drug paraphernalia to sift through.
The day began at 5:30 a.m. with police gathered for a briefing in Port Hueneme. Christian had been up even earlier, buying doughnuts, juice and coffee for the predawn gathering.
The officers split into six groups to discuss the logistics of the carefully timed raids. Police, who conduct about three such raids a year, like to hit as many homes at the same time as possible before gang members have a chance to light up their telephone trees.
Pardo's front door was among the first approached. Several officers surrounded the house, making sure he wouldn't escape.
The team of officers swept past startled family members in the crowded home and woke up the rest. As Pardo was led out in handcuffs, police riffled through his personal belongings--letters, photos and drawers of clothes--looking for contraband.
On the walls of Pardo's bedroom--which lacked a bed--were the deflated Mickey Mouse get-well balloons he received in the hospital while recovering from a recent drive-by shooting.
His sister was incensed. "They treat us all like criminals, the whole family," she said of the police.
The rest of Pardo's family sat silently beside their tinselled Christmas tree in the dark living room.
"I don't have the money to pay for the courts," his mother said.
Compounding the family's mixture of rage, fright and gloom was the presence of half a dozen TV and newspaper reporters invited along by police eager to have their get-tough policy publicized.
Half an hour later, police arrested a 15-year-old boy at an apartment on J Street.
Inside his bedroom, the routine was familiar: His mattress was flipped and police scoured his personal belongings. They found gang insignia written on whimsically folded pieces of paper resembling notes passed in junior high school, and a marijuana pipe.
The routine was familiar in the living room, too, where his 18-year-old sister, Tania, sat teary-eyed as police and journalists tromped through the apartment.
Tania, who had been preparing for school, said she wasn't sure the arrest would have any effect on her brother.
"It's just something that goes along with being a gang member," she said of the periodic police raids. "But nothing is worth having this happen."
A third raid on a home in Port Hueneme frightened the grandmother of a suspected gang member, but did little else. Police had the wrong address; the suspect had moved.
Minutes later at another home--this time in the 200 block of Campbell Way--police questioned a 14-year-old boy previously arrested on suspicion of sex crimes and robbery. He stood handcuffed and shivering in his polka-dot boxer shorts.
Upstairs in his room, police found what appeared to be a small amount of methamphetamine, and gang insignia painted in huge letters on the backside of his mattress and wall mirror.
"Get his pants, shoes and shirt," said one officer to another after finding the contraband. "He's going to jail."
Choking back tears, his mother, Irma, a strawberry picker, asked the question few children want to hear. "Why? Why the drugs? For what?"
"I don't have nothing," he responded as police helped him into his clothes.
Irma broke down as police led her young son away in front of the television cameras.
"Maybe he will change," she said later. "Maybe this will scare him."
Simi Valley Officer Craig Reiners was less philosophical.
"If you don't like us running in your house early in the morning, then don't be a gang member," he said to no one in particular.