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Federal agents help combat SJ County crime

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Federal agents help combat SJ County crime

The display of hand guns, rifles and machine guns represented just a few of the 84 weapons collected by federal, state and local officers in Operation Gideon.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED April 24, 2013 2:22 a.m.

A federal law enforcement crackdown on career criminals is helping local police agencies fight growing crime.

Joseph M. Riehl, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said much of the problem comes with the converging of the interstate highways in San Joaquin County. Criminal elements come from Mexico, Southern California and the Bay Area and then head in an easterly direction from the heart of California.

“Operation Gideon IV” was designed to scoop up guns and criminals in a four-month sweep that began in January. It included federal, state and local police agencies throughout the county with its successes trumpeted at an ATF press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Stockton Police Department.

The operation has touched the criminal element in every city in the county with raids being launched from Stockton to Manteca and Ripon. Modesto has also been included in the multi-layered initiative designed to dismantle criminal organizations centered in the Stockton area. 

The multi-agency operation seized more than 80 firearms – including six machine guns – four short-barrel rifles and two silencers along with bullet proof vests.  Officers and agents recovered 36 pounds of methamphetamine, 21 pounds of marijuana, and 10 ounces of ecstasy (MDMA), 100 grams of heroin and 55 grams of crack cocaine.

Riehl explained that experienced undercover ATF special agents from throughout the United States were deployed with San Francisco based ATF agents and city police officers to conduct covert investigations into some of the most violent criminals in San Joaquin County.

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said his city has been plagued with the criminal element.  Just last year he asked Attorney General Eric Holder for assistance and almost simultaneously the ATF offered its services,  stepping up to help his city fight the ever-growing crime rate, he said.

“The purpose was to bring federal sources down to the local level,” he stressed. “Violence is intolerable and we will bring the full gauntlet down to break the cycle with arrests and incarcerations.”

The Stockton chief said that the city’s homicides are down 50 percent this year and overall violence is down 15 percent since the launching of Operation Gideon IV.

United States Attorney of the Eastern Judicial District of California Ben Wagner also spoke at the press conference, noting that when Stockton requested federal help Washington was eager to provide it for the city and the surrounding police agencies as well.

It was just last week that the 12-member Manteca and Ripon SWAT team supported an ATF search warrant service in the 500 block of Mission Ridge Drive in the south, central portion of the community.  A second search warrant service and one in Ripon in the past two months were all part of the program sweep.

Manteca Police Sergeant Jody Estarziau added that anytime the Manteca Police Department is able to help ATF or any other agency to get guns, drugs or dangerous people off the street, the department will work toward that goal.

“As a result of this sustained and focused operation, 55 of the most dangerous people in the Stockton and Modesto were taken off the streets,” the U.S. Attorney said.  “We have made a long-term commitment to support Stockton’s efforts through the Ceasefire partnership to reduce violence.  Violent gangs and their members should be aware that future violence will also be met with similar enforcement and prosecution efforts.”

ATF special agent Joseph Riehl said the operation will have a lasting impact on public safety in San Joaquin County because of the great partnership created with the police departments in the area that have a mutual vested interests in the quality of life they have known.  He added that ATF’s job is not finished and further prosecutions under Gideon IV will continue to support the Stockton department’s Ceasefire Partnership.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steven Moore stood with other supporting law enforcement leaders at the rear of the podium including James P. Willet, district attorney; Galen Carroll, chief of the Modesto Police Department; and Rob Patrick, California Highway Patrol Commander.

Sheriff Moore said he attended the press conference because his staff was involved in the Gideon IV investigations. The Sheriff’s Department commitment began on July 1 with a county-wide task force working in the city of Stockton and throughout San Joaquin County on a request for assistance from any police chief.

The CRT Community Response Team is a product of Stockton Police Department but the County-wide Task Force was born in the Sheriff’s Department.

“We were the infantrymen on this project,” Moore said.  “The total cost of our staffing alone was $880,000 and, with overtime, it neared $1 million.  That active team includes one sergeant, four deputy sheriffs and one correctional officer for a year serving large pockets of population within the city of Stockton. 

Stockton has received promises of grant money but, because their officer numbers are down, they can’t make use of much of it until they get their hiring and staffing up, Moore explained.

Gideon IV was a very successful operation, the Sheriff said.  

“We can do the same type of things by bringing in undercover operative officers,” Moore said. “I am very happy with the results and see the county is getting a good return for its dollars.  I think it has been a very beneficial to the Sheriff’s Office and to the entire county.”

At Thanksgiving and at Christmas the Sheriff’s Department puts together a band of 100 officers and knocks on the doors of known habitual criminals throughout the county, letting them know robbery should not be the choice pastimes during the holiday seasons.

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