HUNTINGTON BEACH — They arrived in cars and lined up into the wee hours of Saturday morning to buy cocaine in an alley in the Oak View neighborhood, where blatantly open drug sales have frustrated residents for months.
But by the end of the night, undercover police officers posing as drug dealers had arrested 20 men and women who bought plastic bags filled with a white substance they thought was cocaine.
The determined would-be drug buyers even drove past large orange signs that proclaimed the neighborhood a "Drug Enforcement Area."
"I'll tell you how bright these people are," Police Lt. Patrick Gildea said. "We actually had people coming up and getting in line when we had people (under arrest and handcuffed lying) on the ground."
One woman walked up to a uniformed officer who was wearing a jacket emblazoned with 8-inch letters that spelled POLICE and asked him to sell her cocaine, Gildea said.
This was not the first time the city's police have taken to the streets and alleys of the Oak View neighborhood, an area of high-density apartments and a high-crime rate. But this was one of the more successful crackdowns, Gildea said.
Complaints from Oak View residents prompted city officials last year to open a police substation there.
But even the high-profile police presence has not solved all of the problems in Oak View, which is bounded by Beach Boulevard, Warner and Slater avenues and Nichols Street. In its first year of operation the substation itself has suffered from vandalism and even gunfire when someone sprayed the building with 13 bullets last January.
However, there has been improvement.
"If we'd done this a year ago, we'd have had (arrested) 50 easily," Gildea said of the undercover operation, which began Friday night and ended early Saturday and was aided by officers from the Garden Grove Police Department.
In the past, police first moved in and arrested drug dealers, then took their place on the street to offer phony drugs for sale. This time, police did not clear out the regular drug dealers beforehand. However, despite the competition, undercover officers still had so much business that they were forced to turn away some prospective buyers, Gildea said.
It was hoped that by publicizing the operation people would be discouraged from going to Oak View to buy drugs, he said.
"We could arrest sellers all day long, and there's 10 more waiting behind them," Gildea said. "But they can only sell if people come to buy."
Most of those arrested in the alley between Koledo and Jacquelyn lanes were from the Huntington Beach area, but some had traveled from as far as Downey and Chino.
Arrested on misdemeanor charges of soliciting the purchase of cocaine were: Gerald L. Brown, 24; David A. Enriquez, 29; Dominique K. Guinan, 35; Karen M. Hackworth, 27; Darrell Jackson, 27; Damon J. Montgomery, 35; Alez L. Osuna, 25; Oscar R. Peralta, 20; Jeffrey S. Primicias, 26; Michael D. Reiner, 22; Jason J. Sanchez, 18, and Michael S. Siringo, 25. All are from Huntington Beach.
Also arrested on the same charges were: John Hadlich, 34, Chino; Christopher L. Jameson, 22, Cypress; Juan C. Lopez, 23, Fountain Valley; Rafael G. Robleo, 20, Fountain Valley; Lynn B. Siener, 19, Fountain Valley; Christopher Psamoudakis, 20, Garden Grove; Scott K. Wilson, 25, Downey, and Danny D. Leverett, 25, Westminster.