LONG BEACH — Top city officials say a police task force that made more than 900 arrests the past two months has helped rid the city of numerous drug dealers, prostitutes and other street criminals.
But a police union official said the task force "destroyed" the morale of other officers, and the leader of a prominent citizens group called the task force a publicity stunt that did little to curb crime.
The 50-member Crime Suppression Task Force was disbanded by police officials last week after the unit made 919 arrests, primarily in targeted areas in west, central, downtown and North Long Beach.
According to department statistics released Monday, the task force made 488 felony arrests and 431 misdemeanor arrests between Aug. 16 and Oct. 11. Included in the felony arrests were 261 for possession of a controlled substance, 73 for sale and transportation of a controlled substance and 57 for possession for sale of a controlled substance, police said.
The task force also arrested 140 people on misdemeanor charges for soliciting for prostitution, along with 63 men arrested on misdemeanor charges of soliciting sex from police officers disguised as prostitutes. The task force also issued 368 traffic citations, police said.
Praised by Council
The task force's performance drew praise from City Council members.
"It was well executed and it definitely had an impact," said Mayor Ernie Kell.
"Anytime you have that kind of activity (919 arrests), it gets the message across that the City of Long Beach is not going to tolerate" crime, the mayor said.
"I think in the areas where the task force has worked there's a safer feeling. It was an aggressive approach to law enforcement," said Councilman Ray Grabinski, who had requested formation of the task force. Grabinski said task force members let drug dealers know that "we are going to push them off of the streets."
A police union official, however, charged that task force members received preferential treatment, which he said has "destroyed" the morale of other officers.
Officer Mike Minton, a board member of the Police Officers Assn., said in an interview that task force members were instructed by superiors to "go out, kick ass and take names" and to "not worry about the consequences." He added that at the same time, other patrol officers "had to go out and do their job and God help them if they stepped out of line one inch."
Cmdr. Danny Reynolds, who supervised the task force, said that task force members received no such preferential treatment.
Regarding the alleged morale problem, Reynolds said, "It might have hurt (Minton's) morale but I haven't heard of anyone else's morale that was hurt."
Covered for Volunteers
Minton also complained that he and other officers were hard-pressed to cover for colleagues who had volunteered to serve on the task force. He said that on some nights, the department was operating with about 50 patrol officers throughout the city, rather than the customary 80.
As a result, he said, there were "not enough police officers out there to handle the calls that were coming in. We were really getting hammered."
Reynolds declined comment on that charge.
Sid Solomon, president of the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, was also critical of the task force, saying it was a waste of taxpayers' money.
"These people just move from one place to another" in the city, Solomon said of the arrestees. He added that the task force was just a "a big PR scam."
Police officials, though, labeled the operation a success, and hosted task force members at a cold cuts and punch luncheon at police headquarters. At the event, each task force member received a certificate of appreciation from Chief Charles B. Ussery.
Decrease in Property Crime
"Everybody in the city family from the councilmen on down to the patrolmen should be pleased with the effort these guys put out," Deputy Chief Charles Clark said. "I think we got crime down to a dull roar."
Preliminary department crime statistics show that the city experienced a decrease in property crimes and some crimes of violence in the third quarter of this year, Clark said.
Drugs involved in the arrests typically were small amounts of cocaine, usually between one to eight cocaine "rocks," said Reynolds.
Police did not keep cumulative statistics on the amount or value of drugs seized in the arrests.
Many of the task force duties battling street crime will be assumed by a 28-member Metro Unit that began operations Oct. 11. The unit, which includes two helicopter pilots, will also have other duties, such as patrolling beaches in the summer.