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Responding to beating all part of a days work
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Fire and ambulance medics wheel Miguel Valles, 22, to a waiting ambulance late New Year’s Eve after he was jumped and beaten in front of a convenience store on North Union Road at the railroad tracks in what police suspect was a gang motivated attack. He was transported first to Doctors Hospital of Manteca and quickly sent to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto where police reported him to be in critical condition. - photo by GLENN KAHL
There’s nothing like going on a police ride-along to be up and personal with the night street life in the community – especially on New Year’s Eve.  

It also gave me some additional time to think about the city’s position in the handling of the community’s first line of defense.

It is interesting to note that some claim El Monte is the only city in Southern California to lose officers to the down economy. Critics have claimed poor budgetary planning by its city fathers in past years as the culprit in difficult times.

In Manteca the swing shift had only five units on the street Thursday night for a population of 65,000, along with another four that served as a DUI drunk driving saturation patrol funded by the State Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).  There is a partial overlap, however, with the graveyard shift coming on later in the evening.

It’s with a certain amount of hesitation that I get into the subject of fewer officers serving but with the strapped and ineffective jail system quickly releasing offenders back into their neighborhoods, it can only get worse for everyone.  It’s a topic of real concern that isn’t going to go away any time soon in the current economic climate.

It is heartening to see the officers continuing to work as an effective “street team” as they run from call to call. They are obviously concerned about each other and about the people of the community they serve.  It is amazing to me how they have kept their morale as high as it is today after losing part of their force.  It’s also important to realize that for every two calls it takes four units to respond if each officer is going to have a partner show up behind him or her.

Responding Manteca officers even treated the number of women party goers – who had way too much to drink – with courtesy and a level of understanding the women didn’t deserve as they got into the officers’ faces.  There must have been inebriated men as well, but I only saw one and he was cooperative.

It’s evident that the gang community is very much aware of the cutbacks in the police department, even if the numbers of boots on the street have remained pretty much the same at the detriment of the detectives and other special units that have been cut.  There seems to be a sense by the younger set that they have a better chance of getting away with running on the bad side of the law with something of a “catch me if you can” attitude that is becoming more prevalent.

Gang activity on upswing
Gang activity has been increasing as evidenced with the number of shootings that have occurred since the cutbacks of the officers in Manteca – often seeing multiple shootings on any given night.  Those incidents often don’t find their way into the news pages, because the bullets don’t hit anyone but houses and cars parked on the street and because of the fact we are not immediately aware they are occurring.

Gang members are using hand guns and shotguns for their choice of weapons, and that is getting pretty scary to say the least mixed in with the gang mentality.  The size of bullets being used is running from .22 to .40 caliber in those hand guns.

It has long been my belief that if the community isn’t aware of the day-to-day crime – that I feel is now escalating – citizens are slow to react with their needed support for police officers in keeping the community safe.

Thursday night was an eye opener of sorts for me after going out on the street with canine officer Dale Goforth and “Gage,” his four-legged partner.  It was not my first ride-along with a Manteca officer, but it was my first in a long time.  There were two gang-related events that we responded to with one sending a 22-year-old man to a Modesto trauma center beaten so badly that he was listed in critical condition going into surgery.

The other involved a number of males in their early to mid-20s who were suspected of striking a victim and brandishing a hand gun.  Those five individuals were detained by officers and forced to sit on the curb in front of their residence while other officers brought witnesses by in a patrol car in an attempt to identify one or all of them.  It didn’t happen and they were released after about 45 minutes.

In the case of the man sent to the hospital shortly before 10 p.m., police said he was jumped by three or four male individuals who took him down and allegedly kicked him repeatedly in the body and head leaving him with multiple broken bones.  No suspects were immediately located by the officers or by the follow-up detectives.

Flu bug thins ranks
Cops aren’t supposed to get sick – they have to cover their beats.  Not the case this week where several of them were doing anything but partying having the flu bug that has been making its rounds through the force.  Their brothers have had to fill the gap for them with fewer units on the street than there should have been on those beats.

We all expect quick response when we are in need of an officer. We want action from professional law enforcement officers who are expected to deal with more than expected, and we want it now.  We have become complacent to having one officer to a patrol unit during the night time hours – their partner will catch up with them in time to back them up when they meet the unexpected – or will they?

In past years the city police departments could look to the California Highway Patrol for occasional backup support in a pinch, but the CHP numbers have been cut drastically in contrast to what I remember them to be some 25 years ago.  Sheriff’s deputies aren’t always. They often have only one unit with two officers during the nighttime hours that cover the South County from Tracy to Escalon.

We all need to pay closer attention of the level of policing that we are allowing to occur.  At least three of the seasoned officers who were let go went to Hayward and other Bay Area communities where they are making much more money – a solid argument against cutting their wages here.  It will cause us to lose more of our good men and women who may be losing trust in Manteca . They will continue to gravitate toward the cities over the hill when jobs open up.