South County law enforcement is at full manpower in the event civil unrest in the Bay Area that led to widespread looting, fires, and vandalism flows east across the Altamont Pass after a number of hard hit communities imposed curfews.
Small scale looting has already occurred in Stockton where a Walmart was hit as well as stores at Weberstown Mall on Pacific Avenue after the shopping complex had been closed early and secured.
Manteca Police Monday took the extraordinary step of closing the downtown district from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. today. Yosemite Avenue was closed between Willow Avenue and Grant Street while Main Street was shuttered from Moffat Boulevard to Center Street. Police officers were posted in downtown during the nine hour closure.
“Our downtown businesses have been out of business for a long time,” noted Manteca Police Lt. Stephen Schluer. “They were considered non-essential (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). “We want to protect their assets because they can’t afford to lose any more.”
The decision came on the heels of Walmart and Target closing early in the afternoon Monday. The corporate level decision was made due to issues both firms are experiencing at stores in the Bay Area.
Walmart at last report planned to open their Manteca store at 7 a.m. today. Target has not provided any details on their hours of operation today.
Several businesses boarded up their windows Monday as a precaution.
In Tracy on Monday the West Valley Mall was closed at 1 p.m. Tracy Police officers and mall security officers could be seen on the mall’s roof.
As the demonstrations against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that are breaking out in major metropolitan areas across the country continue to spread and California are hijacked by looters, vandals, and anarchists, local agencies are prepared to respond if and when a response becomes necessary – monitoring the situation in neighboring communities like Stockton and Modesto and in the Bay Area where peaceful demonstrations have given way into violent looting that has drawn sharp criticism from politicians and community leaders alike.
Out of an abundance of caution, both Walmart and Target in Manteca closed early on Monday after the Walmart in San Leandro was looted and set on fire. Other major shopping centers were also targeted around the Bay Area.
According to Schluer, the police routinely practice training for civil unrest. A department response team has already been deployed to Stockton to help quell violent encounters and is prepared to help protect local lives and property.
But even on a more basic level, Schluer said that Manteca officers also routinely go through training to help build public confidence in procedural justice and work to erode the “us versus them” mentality with the people they are sworn to protect.
“It’s about treating people with dignity and respect, making decisions based on facts and not illegitimate facts such as race, and giving people a voice and a chance to tell their side of the story,” Schluer said. “It’s about acting in a way that encourages the community members to believe that they will be treated with good will in the future.”
Large demonstrations in Stockton and Modesto on Sunday were mostly peaceful but descended into chaos as they concluded – with looting reported at numerous locations in Stockton, including the Sherwood and Weberstown malls across from Delta College on Pacific Avenue and the Walmart off of 8 Mile Road, and clashes between police and demonstrators in the streets of Downtown Modesto that included the use of flash bangs.
With reports on Monday of Alameda County implementing an 8 p.m. curfew that will be enforced by law enforcement came fear that those looking to sow discord would travel across the Altamont where restrictions weren’t quite as severe – something that law enforcement says that they’ve been monitoring and preparing for.
Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann – whose jurisdiction includes the only Target Store within the boundaries policed by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office – said that his agency is prepared for anything that may arise in the coming days.
“The COVID-19 thing caught us off guard because nobody had ever seen this before, but these are the kinds of that we’re always training for – not this one specifically, but how to respond to civil unrest situations,” Biedermann said. “Lathrop is kind of an anomaly for the Sheriff’s Office because the infrastructure that we have here is different than what we have in the rural areas we usually patrol – we have the only Target in the jurisdiction, and we’re doing to everything we can to maintain peace.
“Being a part of the Sheriff’s Office gives us the flexibility to be able to call for officers in the event that we need them, and to send ours to other jurisdictions if they need assistance as well. I think that puts us in a very good position.”
While Lathrop Police Services, which utilizes a community-oriented policing model within the community it serves, strives to maintain a good relationship with resident based on mutual respect, Biedermann noted that the issue beneath the strife is one that resonates with all law enforcement officers – especially those who do the right thing and treat people with the dignity they deserve.
The anger over the video that has thrown the country into turmoil, he said, isn’t exclusive to just civilians.
“There’s no other profession where one person does the wrong thing and it reflects so heavily on everyone else,” Biedermann said. “We need to get rid of the bad apples because it taints the whole profession – to think that we support that guy just because he’s a cop couldn’t be further from the truth.
“What we saw – that’s not what cops do, but sometimes mistakes are made, and we hire the wrong people. Law enforcement is a living, breathing organism that sometimes has to adjust and it’s unfortunate that we get stuck with the stain of whatever they did. That’s not reflective of all police officers at all.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.