As over 100 peace officers from 13 different law enforcement agencies in Stanislaus County converged in a one-day gang sweep, focusing on over 115 gang-related targets, one city’s cops were absent from the posse – The City of Oakdale.
With over 89 searches on suspected gang members conducted on Wednesday, May 15, resulting in 27 arrests amid drug seizures and nine firearms taken off the street, including two assault rifles, Oakdale remained a haven for its local red and blue attired crews.
“Normally we get involved in these things,” said Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins who said the department had previously scheduled a much needed internal test for detective that day. “With our low levels of personnel, we don’t have that many people to do both.”
Sheriff’s officials said the May 15 sweep was necessary because of a noticeable spike countywide in gang-related violence the past several years. Recently the area has continued to see a rise in gang crimes including homicides, drive-by shootings, and aggravated assaults.
“I am fairly certain that no sweeps were done in the City of Oakdale,” responded Stanislaus Sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Bejaran to a question that if, even without Oakdale personnel, any of the tactical activity occurred in the city.
In the last six months, Oakdale has experienced a double-homicide that was gang related, a rash of other gang shootings and stabbings, and a gang element that many see as the cause of a rising violent crime problem. In addition to the violent crime, gang-related graffiti has been mucking up the city on a regular basis with no end in sight.
Traditionally known as a Norteño turf, the city has been in a tug-of-war between the opposing gangs as more Sureños have moved into town in recent years. The friction between the two rivals, coupled with the diminished police resources, has created a financially-strapped based sanctuary for the kind of criminal activity the police department for years worked to curtail.
Earlier this year Jenkins addressed the city council and said that money from a federal grant would go to overtime for gang enforcement.
“The money from the grant is great for ‘OT,’ said Jenkins on Friday, “but you also need the personnel to plug in.”
Unfortunately to many in Oakdale, not addressing the problem, especially when the city can supplement its enforcement efforts with a blue-wave of over 100 officers, will lead to increased confrontations, retaliatory taggings, and subsequent violence.
“It’s very disheartening to us that we’re not able to do these things,” said Oakdale Police Officer Association President Brian Shimmel. “It’s a sign of the times. We’ve been down to a limited budget and a skeleton crew to pull in for those assignments.”
Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer also touched on the topic during Monday night’s regularly scheduled council meeting.
“In hindsight, it’s probably something we could have planned for and sent someone there,” Whitemyer said at the May 20 meeting when J.R. McCarty brought the non-participation up during public comment. “In the future, moving forward, it’s something we should be participating in.”
The police department, with an authorized strength of 20, and now frozen at 18 sworn positions, had a force of 28 officers only a few years ago.
In March, the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force conducted a two-day operation that resulted in the arrest of 13 suspected members or associates of the Nuestra Familia prison gang or its street-level gang, the Norteños.
Oakdale Police chose not to participate in that sweep either. It is unknown if any Nuestra Familia members reside in the city.
Sheriff’s officials said that the May 15 gang sweep was the first of many planned for the spring and summer months.
“We’ll probably jump in on the next one,” said Jenkins. “This one just came at a bad time for us.”