Mira Mesa Town Council Meeting

February 4, 2008

Featuring a presentation by the San Diego Police Department on crime and gangs in the area

Jump directly to the police's presentation

The Mira Mesa Town Council meetings are held in a meeting room of the Mira Mesa branch of the San Diego public library, at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month. This meeting featured a presentation by the SDPD on fighting crime and gangs in Mira Mesa, just after I started wondering about the topic, so I headed over to this very timely event.

When I arrived, a half-dozen scouts of Boy Scout Troop 1212 were practicing moving the flags about the room, under the tutelage of a couple of adult scoutmasters. One scout, a tall, slender boy with militarily severe good looks, was assigned as the command-caller. They practiced until the town council officers entered and sat down at the tables in the front of the room, at which point the scouts retired to the rear of the room. The tall severe scout carefully leaned the U.S. and state flags in the back corner of the room, to await their cue.

The MMTC officers took their seats. They were:
Albertine Feurer-Young -- Recording Secretary. She took the minutes.
Pam O'Donohoe -- First Vice-President. She had bid me a warm welcome to the meeting earlier, when people were still milling about.
Jeff Stevens -- President
Courtland Young -- Parliamentarian
Alan Philpott -- Treasurer

After Jeff Stevens called the room to order, the Scouts performed a Presentation of the Colors which resulted in the flags winding up in their normal holders in the front of the room, on either side of the officers' tables. The Scouts then led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance. After they had done, Mr. Stevens stated that any group who wanted to practice flag ceremonies was welcome to present the colors for these meetings, just contact the Council and arrange it ahead of time.

The Council then went through the various officers' reports. The annual budget was then approved by a show of hands of the assembled membership, which they stated was a new record (for how fast it was accomplished).

Representatives of various local public officials then reported to us.

Khoa Nguyen reported for City Councilman Brian Maienschein's office. A dapperly-dressed, friendly young man, he briefed us that groundbreaking on a long-awaited nature hiking trail in the area was to begin shortly.

Erica Holloway reported for County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.
She said there was "an outbreak" of measles at a charter school in the county. 3 siblings enrolled there had come down with it while on a vacation trip to Switzerland; and more worrisome, they and 38 other kids in that school had not been vaccinated for measles. This was the first measles outbreak in San Diego County in 25 years. Apparently, charter schools do not require that their students have their vaccinations up to date.

Rebecca Leister reported for County Supervisor Ron Roberts.
A 78-RPM hummingbird of a young woman, she told us that a regional fire protection committee has been established by the county.

Liz Saiakhanlon reported for State Assemblyman George Plescia. She told us that the Legislature is currently working on procedures for bringing Marines into a wildfire-fighting effort.
George Plescia is also introducing tax incentives for brush removal. A golf fundraiser for the Rancho Bernardo fire station renovation is also in the works.

An audience member commented reproachfully that "the Navy has helicopters too," and another rather sardonically said, "let us see a draft" of the firefighting legislation "so we can get the mistakes out of it before it becomes law."

A brief Open Forum followed, during which a lady talked about an upcoming Philipino-American celebration to be held in the nearby park. A second audience member, newly moved into Mira Mesa, recounted how his neighbor's house was burgled twice in the last two weeks. This was a perfect segue' into:

Presentation by the San Diego Police Department

Captain Miguel Rosario
Lieutenant Dawn Summers
Sergeant George Anderson
Detective Dave Collins
Detective Joe Imani (ph)
Officer Jeffrey Carter
Officer Paul Lennon

The police stated that Lynn Sharpe Underwood leads the city's newly formed Gang Commission. "Mira Mesa is not particularly high in crime, thus fewer police" officers are deployed here.

Captain Rosario: There are (citizen) concerns about crime in this area.

The main problems are:

What seems to work is when police, schools, and the community get together, discuss, and come up with strategies.

Tonight's hot-off-the-press stats: All crimes are down except burglaries, which are up.

At this point, Jeff Stevens suggested that the Council vacate their chairs at the front table, and let the police officers sit there instead while they gave their presentation. The seat-swap ensued.

Dave Collins, gang detective and former member of the anti-grafitti unit then spoke.
He said in the Mira Mesa area, it is pretty much Philipino and other Asian gangs. He mentioned the Asian Crips, saying they are a larger and harder-to-root-out gang, but didn't go into much more detail about them. (see page of general Crips info) He also said there are "a number of" Philipino gangs, comprising 5 to 12-15 members each. He implied these latter are less organized and less permanent.

12-18 months ago there "was a huge gang problem up here" (in Mira Mesa). The police did a lot of sweeps, made some arrests, and knocked the gang activity down.

He stated that their practice is "displacement"-- to disperse the members so they go elsewhere. He told us, "there will always be gangs in San Diego county," wherever in the county you look. One of the audience members voiced some displeasure with this.

Captain Rosario chipped in that gang members are also arrested. He said that 'displacement' has worked very well in some cases, citing two gang members-- one of whose mother sent him back to live with relatives "in the home country", and the other was sent to a military school.

The question was asked, 'What is a gang?' Section 186.22 of the California Penal Code defines a gang. A gang commits a series of crimes, 3 or more.

Dave Collins noted that his business cards were on the table in the back.
"Email is best/most immediate, because it pings me."

[ Detective Dave Collins, dcollins {at} pd.sandiego.gov ]

Dave Collins said he is an undercover guy. "Have any of you seen me here before? Probably not. There's no telling where you'll see me crawling around." Usually when he comes up to Mira Mesa, he brings an entire gang suppression unit with him.

Alan Philpott spoke up and said, a lot of kids join gangs when they lose hope. "How are you helping schools intervene?" he asked the police.

Captain Rosario answered, when police, schools and the community strategize together, you get the best results. It starts at the home. Community policing.

A nicely-dressed lady, probably Lynn Sharpe Underwood, who represented the Gang Commission spoke next. She said that suppression needs to be balanced with social services. Many communities of San Diego have begun work in their neighborhoods... the work must be by neighborhood. She mentioned the Safe Passage project for kids going to/from school. (See also events.) The community, school, and parents have to work together.

Captain Rosario: The SDPD has just added a 4th gang suppression team. But even many more such teams will not solve the problem; just enforcement is not enough. "Though heaven knows we police love to enforce" (to audience laughter). Collaboration is key (to solving the problem).

Jeff Olivero, principal of Mira Mesa High School, commented from the back of the room. He said, gangs in Mira Mesa are very different from gangs in other communities. Many gang kids here are 4.0 students, and taken individually are very respectful to adults. They live a double life.

He figures out who is in a gang based on who they associate with, and what they're wearing, and sometimes the clues are quite subtle. Their parents are often completely unknowing. He gave the example of red in the kids' wardrobe-- red shoes, red shoelaces, red belt (and the parent saying, "oh, I just thought he liked red a lot.")

The principal does not think Mira Mesa gang kids are territorial, per se. He commented that "90% of our kids (in MM High School) are from Mira Mesa."

Lieutenant Summers: When she transferred up here, she also found gang culture here was very different from gangs south of I-8.

There recently was a gang homicide in Mira Mesa, after a gunbattle car chase. The family had no idea the son was in a gang.

"We're also finding ways to reach the families" and help them recognize if their kid is in a gang.

Audience member: "What is gang activity?"

Lieutenant Summers: The popular gang activities here are meth, gun possession, and assauts. "Meth is really big up here, guns too." The kids have guns in their car or even on their person-- scary for the cops.

Audience member: Would increased RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol) help?

Captain Rosario: Absolutely. Anything we can do in that area is a help.

RSVP Rep: We have a good group, but can always use more members.

Captain Rosario: This area, Rancho Bernardo to Mira Mesa, enjoys the biggest volunteer groups in the city. "It helps us hold back the tide" here.

Sergeant Anderson - Is with the School Police of SDPD for the I-8 to Poway region. "We're short officers for all the schools. We're supposed to have 11-- currently we have 9." So instead of one assigned officer for Mira Mesa High, he rotates in a different officer every month. "A patch job". He fears (the Governor's) state budget cut order will result in losing more officers.
School police are in 2 shifts, 5 days/week. First shift is 7am - 3pm; SGT Anderson is on the 10am - 6 shift.

Alan Philpott pointed out that we spend $47,000/year for a jail inmate, versus $4,000/year for a student. It is more economical to keep them from going down the road of crime!

Jeff Carter -- he runs the safety patrols for elementary schools. Over the last 2 years, he has seen problems on campus go down a lot. There are strong principals at Challenger Middle School and Mira Mesa High School.

Audience member: Challenger has been vandalized 7 times since October -- lots of broken windows, property destroyed such as taking clothes out of Lost-n-Found and setting them on fire, and grafitti. It's pretty much been happening on the weekends.

The people from the school said they think it is just one group attacking Challenger. There was little crime before this began.

Dave Collins: The SDPD still has a graffiti task force. They keep a record of "Monikers" (each graffitist's personal 'tag' or graffiti that they do); taking pictures of them, dates, and locations. Dave has used these records to prosecute taggers for acts they did up to 3 years prior.

Dave asked us-- please take pictures of the graffiti before painting it over, and give the picture to the police! Especially to Dave and others on the task force. It is good if there is a camera date/time stamp in the picture. They need the time and date with the picture "to build a case".

Numbers to call if we see vandalism happening:
(619) 531-2000 = non-emergency number for San Diego
(858) 484-3154 = non-emergency number for North County
(619) 291-7678 = if the vandalism is happening on school property
(619) 531-2847 = gange unit office direct line. Dave Collins, or Officer Francini (M-Th, 2-midnight).

Audience member: There is a "crime spree" of traffic violations all over Mira Mesa. Hillery Street-- "they speed up an down Hillery," and ignore stop signs. Bicyclists ride on the sidewalk or wrong side of the road.

Captain Rosario: We deal with quality of life, not just crime. He said he will be happy to send traffic motorcycles up and ticket people.

An audience member added that he is monitoring police activity online on a certain intersection in Mira Mesa (he said but I forget the name) and has noticed that, since he called and told the police there were a lot of traffic violations happening there, that ticketing activity has gone way up and crazy traffic has gone down there.

Another audience member: If you give the police a "target rich environment" they will be happy to go there and crack down on traffic problems. (The audience chuckled.) Our eyes are a great help, he said; we know the area since we live here, and the more information we can feed the police department, the better.

Audience member: Is there a connection between gang crime and burglaries?

Captain Rosario: Burglaries are "across the board," it could be anyone. We're making headway on property crimes, using DNA evidence, (finger)prints, etc. Every so often, from these, we "get a hit" on a career criminal.

The police then told the story of a house whose resident asked the neighbors to watch it while they were away. A burglar came, the neighbor saw and called it in, and the police descended on the house while the burglar was still in it, all thrilled: "we got him! we got him!" But it turned out that the burglar was the resident's son, who had just gotten out on parole!

Lieutenant Summers: Most burglaries are crimes of opportunity. Some businesses refuse to take measures to prevent burglaries, in spite of suggestions from the police. Commercial burglaries can spread to nearby residential areas (? I think I heard her say that).

Captain Rosario: Crooks will walk past a business after hours, especially a business that is back away from the street, where they can't be seen as easily.
Businesses should close their blinds so burglars can't see the "prizes" inside (computers, etc). Businesses who close their blinds don't get hit. The police offer "security screens" (evaluations) to businesses-- they have offered them to 200+ businesses (in the Mira Mesa area) but only 6 took them up on it.

Audience: How do you recognize gang members?

Joe Imani (sp?), detective, SDPD's Asian gang unit: Gang members here (in Mira Mesa) don't generally 'hang out' (on street corners, etc). They are mobile, and hard to distinguish.
The police department learns how to distinguish them by getting information, and seeing who they hang out with. Kids (yours) in junior high and high school will also probably know, "cause kids talk".

Question to the police: Do you get a 'cut' of traffic tickets?

Here the police got slightly embarassed expressions, and Captain Rosario then joshed, "we get a blender if we write 12" tickets.

In answer to another audience member's question: Police who knock on your door to hand out flyers will be in full uniform. If you are in doubt, call the dispatcher. A real police officer will have both a badge and a picture ID. (Dave Collins held his up to show us, it contained badge and ID in a plastic pouch on a lanyard.)

If your kid gets beat up by gang members, or probable gang members:

Me: I see these black hearts spray-painted on electrical boxes around Mira Mesa. Is that a gang?

Another audience member: No, that's us.

It turned out he was serious-- he is a local realtor, who, with several other local citizens, is painting over tags with the black heart to show their disapproval of such activity. They have been especially wrestling with the "eyeball" tags, a black-paint-through-a-stencil tag of an Illuminati-style eye. They began with white hearts (I remember seeing these in 2004), but quickly learned that the "eyeball tagger" would just put another black eye right over it. So now they use black paint and paint black hearts, "to force the guy to invest in a can of white paint".
The Black Hearts meet on Sundays to paint over grafitti.
If interested, email me, bparcells [at} ssinc-dot-us, and I will put you in touch with him.

Captain Rosario: Crime thrives where neighbors don't know each other.

Regarding the Challenger school vandalism problems-- Lieutenant Summers said they will try to devote some officers, catch them, and make an example of them.

"Whenever we have an excess of staffing, we devote them to Mira Mesa."

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