Thursday, September 13, 2018

Story and photos by Jim Forbes

Local and Fed Agencies say, together, they’ve delivered big hit to Compton violent crime

COMPTON—“We actually had a safe city for the last 3 years,” Compton City Councilwoman Janna Zurita reflected. “When you look over at the table and see all the weapons that have been confiscated, that makes for a safer Compton.”

Zurita spoke at a press conference noting the conclusion of a 3-year collaboration of city, county and the federal governments, that resulted in thousands of arrests, hundreds of guns confiscated along with significant caches of explosives and drugs.

And as the councilwoman, was flanked by approximately two-dozen law enforcement officers, from street cops to undercover officers to prosecutors, she asked for a round of applause, in appreciation of what is occurring in the city of her birth.

It was September 2015 and many of the same people stood before the community proclaiming a determination to reverse the trend of violence and crime that has paralyzed Compton for decades.

“What was initially announced as the Violence Reduction Network, today continues as the Public Safety Partnership. The name alone tells you how far we’ve come since September 2015,” reflects Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Funded by the Obama Justice Department, Compton was designated as one of 10 cities nationwide in serious need of intervention. The realities had outgrown the resources of local agencies to handle alone, whether it be manpower or specific expertise. And so LASD Compton Station began working with the FBI; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); U.S. Marshall’s Service and the Justice Department through the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“Often times you have turf battles between the different agencies, the federal agencies and the locals that everyone seems to know about,” acknowledges Compton’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Michael Thatcher.

But all sides of the equation agree, that hasn’t happened in Compton these last three years. Capt. Thatcher says it’s a matter of respecting each other’s complementary expertise.

“We all know the lanes we usually operate in, what each agency brings to the table and what their specialty is.”

Sheriff McDonnell adds that’s not by accident but because of reality and necessity. While locals and feds may work together sporadically in many locales, there’s a lot more familiarity in Compton because of its needs.

“We train together, we work together and unfortunately we have enough natural and man-made disasters here, we’re not changing business cards when we meet at an event. We know each other, and we’ve developed that long-term relationship and it’s working out well.”

And as a result: ATF seized 300 of the 445 weapons confiscated as well as 80 pounds of explosives, U.S. Marshall’s took into custody more than 200 fugitives and wanted criminals, the FBI conducted wiretaps directed at violent gang members engaged in interstate drug trafficking and the DEA confiscated over 300 pounds of methamphetamine, heavy loads of cocaine, heroin and 18 pounds of fentanyl.

And according to Sheriff McDonnell, “Eighteen pounds of fentanyl is enough to kill nearly 4 million people. That’s incredible.”

For all the seizures, confiscations and arrests, it goes for naught if those responsible aren’t successfully prosecuted. As part of this unique program, The U.S. Attorney’s office was imbedded in Compton Station and worked alongside the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

“It’s rare that you get to see DEA, ATF, FBI all sitting down and saying we are all going to collectively try to solve this one problem. And then have the sheriff go all in on it. What made it even better was that the District Attorney’s office was there, and there wasn’t any argument about which way (state or federal charges) a defendant should go.”

Assistant United States Attorney Justin Rhoades is Chief of the Violent Organized Crime Section for the Central District of California.

“Everyone just wanted the best result for the city. Sometimes that meant we would defer to them because it was third-striker. Or someone they really had experience with prosecuting as part of a larger case, sometimes they would say this should be a federal case, we don’t want this guy to come through the revolving door…or the evidence worked out one way better than the other.”

The specific funding for the program has now ended, but the collaboration has not. Both LASD and the feds are working on a 5-year strategic plan to continue the momentum. Two FBI agents remain embedded in Compton Station and two Compton gang deputies, certified by the FBI, remain in the unit as well.

So instead of mourning a program that is no longer similarly funded, Councilwoman Zurita remains hopeful for more peaceful days still, with pride in the role her community has already played.

“We have the lowest crime that we’ve ever had in the city of Compton, and you have to contribute it to all these agencies being in the city and working together. It was a commitment to the City of Compton. We are now a model city for the VRN (Violence Reduction Network) partnership program here in the United States.”