National Night Out brings police, communities together
by Luke Lavoie
How does a police force of approximately 500 officers keep a community of 300,000 residents and thousands more commuters safe?
According to Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon, it doesn't — well, not all by itself at least.
"To keep a community that big safe is an insurmountable challenge," McMahon said Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the county's kickoff ceremony for National Night Out.
"We are successful because of partnerships we have with the community every single day. Tonight we take a special moment to focus on it and highlight it, but these efforts are going on every day and every night in the community without a lot of fanfare."
The kickoff celebration, held at the newly opened Roger Carter Community Center, in Ellicott City, was one of many events held in neighborhoods throughout the county. In addition to the kickoff event, a second main event hosted by Howard County police was held at the North Laurel Community Center.
The purpose of National Night Out is to increase the visibility of police within the community and heighten the awareness of community members in an effort to deter crime.
The tactic is called community policing, and according to McMahon, it is working.
McMahon said over the last seven years overall crime in the county is down 10 percent, robberies are down 36 percent, burglaries are down 10 percent and automobile robberies are down 50 percent.
"I think there's a tendency to focus on a few instances and think somehow this is not a safe place and that conditions are deteriorating. It's quite the opposite," said McMahon. "The reality is, in Howard County, we are much safer than we were in 2006."
State Senator and former County Executive James Robey, who was chief of police during the first National Night Out in Howard County, said community policing plays an integral role in public safety.
"It's about getting the community involved in taking a stand against crime," he said. "It's the public sector working with private sector to make our community streets safer."
Among the handful of community members at the kickoff event was Ellicott City resident Linda Firman, who brought her granddaughters Trinity Jordan and Carrington Pope.
"Community policing helps the community converse with police," said Firman. "It's good for police to be visible during good times, not just when something bad is happening."
Ellicott City resident Jaden Kim, who stopped by the event with his daughter, Allison, after exercising at the center, said it was the first he's heard of National Night Out but that "it's a very good idea.
"Knowing more about the police allows us to communicate with them and not be afraid," Kim said.
Community gets to know Ogden police on fun basis
by Andreas Rivera
OGDEN — Ogden police were out in full force Tuesday night, taking an opportunity to show their softer side to the public.
The National Night Out was held at the Ogden Amphitheater and showcased several community-oriented police units and other agencies.
The prominent group was the Community Policing Unit, which is described as the “hands-on” division of the police force.
The unit's job is to handle very specific problems in the community and to be the face of the police department to the community.
“It's a law enforcement and citizen partnership in crime prevention,” said Officer Kevin Mann.
The unit handles such issues as responding to loud parties, patrolling areas for vagrants and even informing businesses of overgrown weed problems.
While these issues may seem minor, Mann said they often go overlooked because community members don't report it.
“If people aren't willing to get involved, then law enforcement is not a guarantee,” he said.
The purpose of the event was to introduce residents to the various agencies that work with the community.
Among the groups represented were the Community Emergency Response Team, Ogden Animal Services and Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.
“It's an opportunity to put information in people's hands,” said Stacy Rice, the event's coordinator.
Rice signed on to organize the annual event to expand it and let residents know they don't have to be afraid of their police force.
Several family-friendly demonstrations where held, including members of the Weber County Sheriff's Office making a wind tunnel with their fan boat and the Ogden Police K-9 unit attacking Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, who was wearing a padded suit, of course.
Mann emphasized that community participation is key.
The Community Policing Unit facilitates the creation of Neighborhood Watch programs.
If there is gang activity in a neighborhood, and residents have an active Neighborhood Watch program, it can be an effective way to remove the problem and show that the community isn't afraid, because gangs feed off intimidation, Mann said.
Law enforcement is a resource, not a solution, he said.
Community Policing officers are assigned to different areas of the city, and residents can call or email the officer assigned to their neighborhood with any sort of problem.
Click here to find officers' contact information on the Ogden City Public Safety website.
County police cite gains against Camden crime
'The first step'
by Andy McNeil
CAMDEN – Authorities Tuesday said Camden's revamped police force has reduced violent crime citywide since its May launch.
They also acknowledged more must be done to curb crime in a city considered the nation's most dangerous.
“This is the first step in the journey of a thousand miles,” Camden County Police Department Chief Scott Thomson said at a police headquarters press conference. “But what is positive is that it is a large step forward and it is one that will be replicated and continued.”
Authorities said total crime fell 20 percent and violent crime has dropped 11 percent since May, compared with the period May 1 through July 31 last year.
Thomson stood behind a display of dozens of guns seized by county officers. Many of the weapons would be able to pierce a police officer's body armor “like a warm knife through butter,” according to Thomson.
County police have confiscated 74 firearms, a 76 percent increase from the year-before figure of 42 weapons.
“When you have officers that come to work (and) do good proactive, positive, community policing, this is the result,” Thomson added. He also noted the department's absenteeism rate is at 4 percent so far, compared with 30 percent last year.
Authorities also claimed a reduction in homicides since May. They reported 15 slayings in the 90-day period, compared with 21 killings a year earlier, a 29 percent decrease. (The Camden County Prosecutor's Office reported 23 slayings in the 2012 period, which would put the recent decrease at 35 percent.)
But the homicide total since the new department hit the streets still exceeds comparable figures for each of the four years leading up to 2012, which had a record 67 killings.
The city saw a dozen homicides in the 90-day period in 2011 and eight each — or nearly half the current number — in the same period in 2010 and 2009. In 2008, there were 14 slayings.
The county department, which was opposed by police unions and some city residents, replaced a municipal police force that was seen as a drain on Camden's finances. Advocates said the county's approach would put more police on the streets at no additional cost, but opponents decried it as an untested plan tantamount to union-busting.
The former city force, which disbanded after 141 years, saw 155 officers move to the county department. About 60 officers who didn't apply for the new force either retired or were laid off.
The department so far has focused its community policing in the Parkside and Fairview neighborhoods, where violent crime dropped 67 percent and 54 percent, respectively, since the year-ago period.
Thompson said those neighborhoods were chosen because they had legitimate public safety concerns, including a drug-related daytime shooting in a Fairview store prior to the police launch.
Under the department's community policing initiative, interactions between officers and the public have increased tenfold, according to Thomson.
Robert Lucas, owner of Donkey's Place in Parkside, said he has seen more people on the streets since the inception of the new force.
“Things are looking better every day,” said the cheesesteak maker. “I get to see more people on the street — they seem to feel safer on the streets.”
Meanwhile, two nearby neighborhoods have seen a recent uptick in gun violence. Five of the city's last six homicides have taken place either in Liberty Park or Centerville or near their borders. And two men were shot multiple times Saturday night near the 1100 block of Jackson Street in Liberty Park but survived.
Thomson said “operations and very aggressive crime suppression efforts” are being carried out in neighborhoods other than Parkside and Fairview. The efforts are expected to spread citywide after about 100 cadets graduate from the police academy in December, bringing the total force to 401 officers.
Thompson said the retention rate has been “outstanding” and that only 10 or 15 officers have departed.
“People are not going to feel safe overnight,” he added. “What you're going to hear from them is: ‘Is this better than it once was?'
“And I think the resounding answer to that is ‘Absolutely, yes.' ”
Feds: $20 million in Mexican meth seized, eight gang members arrested in raid
by Ron Rokhy and John Cadiz Klemack
In the largest single crackdown on organized crime in L.A. County history, a major drug raid Tuesday netted nearly $20 million in meth, and the arrest of eight accused gang members, busting up what federal authorities called an alliance of Mexican outlaws that threatened to wreak havoc on Southern California.
A multi-agency task force raided areas in Montebello as the final salvo in a 20-year federal investigation.
Agents from the DEA and ATF partnered with local law enforcement to nab the suspects, who were key to an alliance being forged between the Mexican Mafia, known as La Eme, and La Familia, a Mexican drug cartel that has made inroads into the illegal drug market in the U.S. in recent years.
The illicit pact, dubbed "The Project" by gang members, would have seen La Familia provide a steady supply of meth to La Eme each month to sell throughout Southern California, according to Sarah Pullen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
In exchange, La Familia was promised free reign on the streets and protection in prison, said Steven Bogdalek, special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In addition to the arrests, police seized an array of handguns and other firearms and about 600 pounds of meth which had been accumulated over a span of three years, estimated to have a street value of $19 million.
“Our joint efforts have helped disrupt the plot that could've flooded our neighborhoods with tons of methamphetamine and other narcotics,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “We have put to an end an alignment of criminal organizations that would have been unprecedented."
Before Tuesday's bust, the DEA had indicted 13 people in connection with “The Project” and arrested five others. After Tuesday's arrests, all but one are in custody, according to Pullen. The final gang member under indictment is believed to be hiding in Mexico.
“We believe that we have initiated a crippling effect to those members who are still loyal to the Mexican Mafia criminal organization,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in a statement issued by the ATF.
In a separate indictment, the ATF named 31 street gang members charged with crimes ranging from possession of firearms, drug offenses, aiding and abetting, racketeering and conspiracy. They all face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The last large-scale crackdown on the Mexican Mafia in Southern California occurred in Orange County in 2007, when 100 members and associates were charged. Five were sentenced to life without parole in federal prison.