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16 Arrested, Arms Seized in Multi-Agency Oxnard Raids

The sweeps occur less than 24 hours after the city posts its ninth homicide of the year.

May 01, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard police arrested 16 people -- one of them wanted in a February homicide -- and seized dozens of high-powered weapons in a series of early morning raids Wednesday, officials said.

More than 280 officers from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and police departments as far away as Long Beach took part in executing the search and arrest warrants, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez said at a news conference.

Sixteen men and women with previous police records were arrested on suspicion of crimes ranging from homicide to gun and narcotics possession, Lopez said.

Luis Navarro Garcia was arrested in connection with the Feb. 7 slaying of David Marcelino, killed when a bullet came through his front door, authorities said.

Marcelino is one of nine homicide victims in the city this year. His killing, unlike the other cases, appeared to be gang-related, police said.

"I want to send a message to gangs ... that if you gang-bang in the city of Oxnard that you're going to go to jail," Lopez said, standing near half a dozen 12-gauge shotguns and semiautomatic weapons seized during the raids. "We're just not going to tolerate that kind of violence in the city."

The raids came less than 24 hours after Ruben Barajas, 44, was fatally shot in the chest as he rode his bicycle through an industrial area. Police would only say that the drive-by shooting was not a gang incident.

Lopez and other police officials have called the spike in homicides an aberration and insist there is no gang war or increase in gang activity. In fact, Lopez said, shootings and serious assaults are down.

Four of the Oxnard homicides have occurred after domestic or personal disputes and two were the result of murder-suicide, police said.

The department has shifted about 16 officers to its homicide and major crimes unit to help keep a lid on violent crime. The first of several planned community meetings to discuss the crime increase fell on the same day as the raids.

During the news conference, Lopez thanked city officials, who, despite tightening budgets, have provided funding for additional officers and overtime pay. The 209-member force will add about 11 officers by the end of the year, Lopez has said.

In addition to allowing more police overtime, the City Council in February approved spending $57,700 to help pay for a full-time prosecutor for the Police Department's gang-suppression program.

"They're committed to good law enforcement," Lopez said.

During the past decade, the city has seen the number of crimes drop by nearly half and the crime rate drop from 67 offenses per 1,000 residents to about 30, one of the lowest in the nation for a city of its size and well below state and national averages.

But last year the city had a 2.1% increase in major crimes, including hikes of 20% in felony assaults and 26% in auto thefts. Homicides jumped from six to 10 last year, with four of the slayings involving gangs. Serious assaults also increased, from 374 to 449.

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