Monterey Peninsula Chiefs Pool Resources to Fight Gangs and Narcotics

The City of Seaside in the Monterey Peninsula recently experienced a spike in violent crime. Homicides and gang-related shootings were up.

To combat the problem, the Monterey Peninsula law enforcement agencies unleashed a new weapon that goes far beyond its municipal border: a program called PRVNT, for Peninsula Regional Violence and Narcotics Team, a regional effort in which several Monterey Peninsula law enforcement agencies have pooled staff and resources to protect their communities in these cash-strapped times.

PRVNT was initially going to be managed by a commander from the Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, but the state eliminated the position due to budgetary constraints. The peninsula chiefs decided to establish the team anyway to address growing gang violence and narcotics crimes.

Multiple search warrants were issued for a recent bust. Guns and contraband were seized.  The Monterey Peninsula law enforcement agencies were able to cite PRVNT and several other new initiatives as unique examples of how a cluster of small police agencies are working together to provide specialized services they otherwise could not deliver on their own.

“We’re sending a strong message to police departments and communities everywhere that by working together, we can get more done,” said Marina Police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez, who recently talked to CalChiefs about regional policing and shared services among Monterey Peninsula agencies.

The PRVNT effort involves eight agencies that collectively serve a population of around 115,000: with officers from Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Carmel, Pacific Grove and Monterey, as well as the Cal State University of  Monterey Bay Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. With 51 sworn officers, the Monterey P.D. is the largest of the departments; Sand City, by comparison, has about 10.

Although the Monterey Peninsula area is considered relatively safe, it’s a tourism magnet and is home to high-risk targets including the United States Army Defense Language Institute and the Naval Post-Graduate Academy.  Like every area, the Monterey Peninsula has problems with drugs, property theft, gang violence and other crimes. By banding together, the eight agencies are better able to target such problems, Rodriguez said.

“Trying to address these problems as individual agencies would be difficult,” he said.

Rodriguez traces the roots of the numerous regional policing programs to six years ago, when he and a handful of other law enforcement veterans were named police chiefs in the region. The police chiefs started having discussions about problems in their respective communities.

“The chiefs realized that the imaginary boundaries that separate our jurisdictions do not prevent crime from crossing from one city into another,” said Monterey Police Chief Philip J. Penko. “Crime does not recognize jurisdictional borders. To ensure the safety of the entire Monterey Peninsula community, we recognized that pooling our resources created a force multiplier that bolstered our efforts to reduce crime and violence.”

One of the first initiatives they launched was STOPP, for Strategic Traffic Observation and Prevention Program, in which traffic enforcement officers throughout the peninsula take turns rotating each month to perform targeted traffic enforcement, focusing on community education and prevention in addition to citing offenders.

Launched in 2007, STOPP continues today, Rodriguez said.

The Monterey Peninsula chiefs then created the Monterey Peninsula Regional Special Response Unit (SRU), a SWAT with critical-incident negotiating teams to provide more immediate tactical response to serious crime. In the works for three years, SRU became official in 2010.

Meanwhile, with the budget crisis biting deep into the coffers of law enforcement agencies, the cities of Pacific Grove and Seaside decided to share one police chief, Seaside Police Chief Vicki Myers, who in 2012 assumed the helm of the Pacific Grove Police Department.  Plans are in the works to expand the number of policing services in Pacific Grove and Seaside.

In 2008, the Carmel Police Department shared a traffic officer with the Pacific Grove P.D., and in 2010 the city of Monterey contracted with Marina and Seaside for animal control services.

The PRVNT task force is led by a commander from Seaside, a sergeant from Monterey, and is housed in Monterey.  Leadership is provided by a governing board comprised of the respective chief law enforcement executive officers from each participating agency. Chief Myers chairs a special board that oversees the task force. It is supported by  participating agencies through personnel, money and other resources and is the latest regional policing effort to be implemented on the peninsula.

“By pooling our resources and pulling together, we’ve been able to secure hundreds of thousands in grant money to support these regional efforts,” Rodriguez said. “We have learned the value of looking at some policing issues from a more global perspective.”

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