|Give us your tired, your poor - your drug lords|
|Written by Roberta Barth|
|Tuesday, 13 March 2007|
Serving on a federal crime grand jury is like living the Steely Dan song, Do It Again, where the criminal escapes the hangman to go back and do the crime again, says Kurt Howard of El Dorado, California.
"Are cops doing anything?" Howard said. "I finally told the prosecutor if they paraded one more illegal Latino in front us that had been prosecuted a half dozen times, sent back to their country, to only show up here again to go on more crime sprees, then I was going postal. They dismissed me."
Many officials in California echo Howard's frustration and add that it has changed the role of law enforcement.
Where it used to be the mere presence of an officer kept the peace, now department resources and manpower are shifted toward an almost military-type presence, emphasizing investigations, hunting criminals, and thwarting organized crime and gangs.
"Repeat offenders back in court means officers are effective," said Todd Irinaga, FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent, in charge of the central valley. "The Latino gangs are the biggest problem in California. The warring gangs have moved up the valley and are now fighting over turf along the San Joaquin and Stanislaus borders. Quiet little valley towns are battlefields for turf wars."
Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Orange County, says all his years on the judiciary committee, the subject of how best to position law enforcement has been an ongoing debate because the criminal element keeps changing, using powerful weapons with a kill-or-be-killed mentality.
"Washington knows illegals come here to exploit our system and commit crimes and have no regard for our citizens or law enforcement," Ackerman says. "Until Washington secures that border and establishes a system to keep criminals out, then the best we can do is lock them up. That's why our prisons are overcrowded."
A bill that proposed to secure the border was defeated last year. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose serves as Chair of the Immigration Citizenship Oversight Committee and intends to soon draft a bill to reform the current immigration laws.
"I'm optimistic that we will have a plan that will allow the workers that come to pick strawberries in, while keeping the criminals out," Lofgren said. "I can't say at this point what that will be because we're still receiving input on the issue."
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, head of California's Eastern District, said his division has been aggressively prosecuting drug lords, gang leaders, in addition to child predators and pornographers.
As part of that focus, law enforcement re-positioned itself by forming joint task forces with multiple agencies to ensure effective police presence and delivering solid cases to prosecutors.
A typical task force has a DEA agent, a high tech specialist, and a FBI expert, and local law enforcement officers. Will the collaboration solve all of California's criminal justice problems? No, but it's a start.