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Gang Crackdown - Police Sweep Fifth Avenue
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Oakdale Police Department Officers Mike Nixon and Nick McKinnon are pictured processing evidence at one of the homes on Fifth Avenue where validated gang members are registered. Among the evidence found in the home were a loaded .38 revolver, ammunition, and a machete.

The message was clear and direct and delivered with a flash bang on a cool, early Friday morning — there’s a zero tolerance policy in 95361 when it comes to gang activity.

In light of the disturbing rash of drive-by shootings (11 since December 2010, five of those being in August of this year), the Oakdale Police Department coordinated a multi-agency gang suppression sweep of one particular street in Oakdale that has gained an unfortunate association by those running in a criminal street gang.

Det. Brian Shimmel of the Oakdale Police Department, a long-time veteran of the department, said, “I’ve been here almost a decade and I’ve never seen so many shootings. There has been a huge increase. And the gang graffiti is unreal. It’s everywhere. We have to send a message that this kind of criminal activity will not be tolerated.”

The recent reduction in police services, including the disbanding of the SWAT team, K-9 unit, and gang task force, has created a gap that the gang members of both the Sureño and Norteño have taken full advantage of, leading to the increase of gang graffiti, petty theft, vandalism, and the more serious, drive-by shootings.

Traditionally known as a Norteño territory, Oakdale has been in a tug-of-war between the rival gang factions for years as more Sureño have moved into town. The friction between the two rivals, coupled with the diminished police services, has created a ripe breeding ground for the kind of activity Oakdale Police have worked to suppress.

Shimmel started the arduous task of documenting every suspected gang incident called into dispatch, including the drive-bys, and began narrowing the field of suspects, which led him to the infamous North Fifth Avenue, which housed 10 known gang members in four different locations on the street.

He discovered the Oakdale Norteño had renamed their gang from the Oak Town Norteño to The Fifth Street Gang.

Concerned that the situation had gone from bad to worse with the increased gang activity, Shimmel called in support from the neighboring jurisdictions of Ceres Police, Stanislaus County Sheriff, Riverbank, and Turlock Police Department SWAT team and on Friday, Oct. 28 they converged on four locations on Fifth Avenue.

They were met with varying degrees of cooperation.

“We had to flash bang a residence because they were non-compliant,” Shimmel said. “We gave commands in both English and Spanish but they refused to come to the door.”

Once they gained access, one residence in particular, yielded a major missing puzzle piece that had concerned officers.

“At the scene of several of the drive-bys there were no shell casings,” Shimmel explained. “Which made it difficult to match to the gun.”

But as they searched the apartment of a 27-year-old Oakdale woman with known associations to the Norteño street gang, they found tucked inside a backpack hidden in the crawlspace of her 4-year-old daughter’s room, a loaded .38 revolver.

The revolver was consistent with the type of gun they were looking for in the recent drive-by cases.

The woman was arrested and cited on weapons charges as well as child endangerment.

Later, a 16-year-old Oakdale boy was booked on an outstanding weapons charge when he walked by to investigate the commotion happening on Fifth Avenue.

In all, Shimmel and his team considered the suppression sweep a success.

“It felt good to get out there. We got a gun off the streets and we made some gang arrests,” Shimmel said. “I’d absolutely call that a success. We’re taking that street back. We just sent the message we’re not going to tolerate this kind of gang activity. They don’t own the street — it belongs to the citizens.”