The Orange County district attorney's office and the presiding judge of the Central Municipal Court on Tuesday praised Santa Ana's plans to launch a $500,000 anti-narcotics program but said the Police Department has to do its part to make prosecutions stick.
Mayor Daniel E. Griset and Police Chief Raymond Davis outlined the program, called "Swat Hypes," for an audience of about 60 police officers, prosecutors, residents and businessmen. Griset said the city hopes to see fewer plea bargains, stiffer sentences and no bail reductions on felony arrests.
Davis said a key would be more felony prosecutions and a suspension of the district attorney's requirements that, before a felony charge could be filed, more than half an ounce of heroin must have been confiscated and at least three purchases of the drug must have been made by undercover police officers. Success, he said, would require "a suspension of some of these business-as-usual rules."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Freeman disputed Davis' statement, saying his office has no rule on how much of a drug must be confiscated or the number of police purchases that must be made before a felony charge is filed. "Our position is that if he's a seller of heroin and we can prove it, he goes to state prison," Freeman said.
Freeman stressed that a big boost toward successful prosecutions would be for police to carefully coordinate all the information and identify repeat offenders, which he said can be difficult because dealers often use several aliases. "We are 3,000% behind any program such as this," Freeman said. "We should do this once a year."
Davis said the Police Department's "Career Criminal Apprehension Program" will be utilized to provide information on a suspect's background.
Municipal Judge Jacquelyn D. Thomas said it would be impossible to suspend across the board the bail reduction rules that permit suspects in most cases to go free after posting 10% of the bail amount in cash. "I am not empowered to say 'no 10% bail' on all those cases," she said. She also suggested that plea bargains and bail reductions could be reduced if police officers appeared at all arraignments and sentencings to give information about a suspect's record.
INS Involvement Sensitive
At a community meeting later in the day, the focus was on a different aspect of the narcotics crackdown: the decision by Santa Ana police to bring U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents along on raids at houses where it is believed that illegal immigrants are involved in drug sales. The involvement of the INS is a sensitive issue in a city where officials estimate that as many as one-third of the residents are in the United States illegally.
About 70 people heard police and INS district director Ernest Gustafson detail the program. Most of the audience expressed support, but there was some criticism.
Nativo Lopez, who heads an Orange County immigrants' rights organization, asked why police don't call in the INS after suspects are arrested and arraigned rather than instilling fear into undocumented aliens by the on-site involvement. The effect, he said, will be to erode confidence in police to a point where undocumented aliens will no longer report crimes.
He also charged that the city's presentation of the program ignores the fact that many drug dealers are non-Latino.
"It gives the local population the impression that the increase in crime is solely due to undocumented aliens," Lopez said.
In reply to a question from the audience, Gustafson said INS agents who accompany police on drug raids would not make arrests on the streets or in adjoining apartments.
"Frankly," he said, "within a short distance of here, we're already aware of thousands of illegal aliens. I'm not interested in that house next door."
Santa Ana Police Lt. David Salazar said houses and bars where narcotics are being sold will be targeted.
He said some "organizations" rent apartments to undocumented aliens who, in turn, agree to sell heroin. When the crackdown begins Oct. 1, he said, officers and INS agents will move against such apartments, and the INS will begin deportation proceedings against all illegal immigrants living there.
According to Salazar, anyone living in such a dwelling unit is either involved in the traffic or knows about it and therefore would be subject to deportation. Building inspectors and Fire Department officials would be part of the effort, filing citations against landlords for building code or safety violations. In the case of bars where patrons conduct narcotic sales, Salazar said, bar owners will be put on notice that police officers are watching their businesses.
"If they don't (clear up the problems), we will invite INS officials to go into that bar," he said.