Police Practice

Article excerpt

Operation Clean Sweep Curbing Street-Level Drug Trafficking

Rialto, California, a city of 90,000 residents located in San Bernardino County, sits approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles. A working-class city from which many residents commute to nearby Los Angeles and Orange Counties, it has experienced phenomenal population growth. Over the last 30 years, the population has nearly tripled. Many of the new residents came in search of affordable housing and a better quality of life, which they found in Rialto, a diverse community with significant African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, and Native American populations. Still, Rialto faces the same problems as other cities. Illegal drugs, gangs, and violent crime threaten to undermine public safety and erode the quality of life of the city's residents.

Traditional methods for combating street-level drug trafficking focus on three basic strategies: high-profile, proactive patrols, which emphasize aggressively stopping and detaining pedestrians and motorists; buy-bust operations, in which officers promptly arrest suspects who sell narcotics to undercover officers; and demand reduction and prevention programs, such as Drug Awareness and Resistance Education and Gang Resistance Education and Training. Recognizing that one strategy alone cannot eradicate street-level drug trafficking, the Rialto Police Department consistently has employed all three. While this unified response had worked in the past, in April 1999, the department noted a significant rise in gang activity and street-level drug traffic king. The department needed a new drug suppression strategy. Operation Clean Sweep filled that need.

Using the SARA model (scanning, analysis, response, assessment) advocated by problem-oriented policing, [1] the department's Street Crime Attack Team (SCAT) [2] determined that Operation Clean Sweep should aim at achieving a major reduction in street-level dealing by developing such strong prosecution cases that, once arrested, as many dealers as possible would receive certain incarceration. To achieve these goals, the team would need to ensure the following essential elements: a target list of dealers; creative use of technology to gather evidence; close liaison with the district attorney's office; cooperation with other law enforcement agencies; strategic use of the media; and an assessment of the results.

Developing a Target List

First, SCAT bad to identify the drug hot spots and dealers. Members of the team compiled and analyzed information on drug-related calls for service from the department's computer-assisted dispatch database and from citizen calls to a drug hot line. Meeting with patrol officers, detectives, and Neighborhood Watch groups provided valuable, up-to-the-minute insight into activity on the street. The community's involvement via these methods proved critically important. Neighborhood residents often know even more information than the best beat officers do; they can provide important intelligence.

Using New Technology

To enhance the operation, the team relied on an invaluable piece of new technology, a small video camera capable of filming the participants in a drug transaction and recording their voices at the same time. [3] After installing the camera in an unmarked police car, the team designed a sting operation to maximize the results obtained from the new camera. When the drug dealers approached the uncover vehicle (a late-model car not known on the street) to sell their wares, a team member activated the hidden camera, which filmed the entire illicit transaction. After each sale, the undercover vehicle departed, and a uniformed officer in a marked police car made a "routine" stop or detention to establish the dealer's identity. During the detention, the officer took an instant photograph of the suspect, later showing the photo to the undercover officer to confirm the suspect's identity. The uniformed officer released the dealers after establishing their identities; typically, they sauntered back to their neighborhoo ds thinking they had again beat the system. …