By Dave Roberts
The unmarked cars approached the apartment house quickly and quietly. Officers then fanned out to secure the dimly lighted property. I sat in one of the dark blue sedans as officers banged on the door of an apartment, one of many we would visit during a multi-agency sweep of county probationers.
Thoughts of my late-night ride-along came back to me last month as the Board of Supervisors received a report on the state’s Public Safety Realignment and what it has meant for the county.
We heard about the important role the county’s Probation Department plays in supervising convicts who might otherwise be in jail or state prison. We also were told about the strong collaboration among law enforcement agencies.
That’s exactly what I saw at that apartment complex — probation officers working side by side with Escondido Police officers in a dangerous situation.
After they deemed the apartment and surroundings were safe, the officers called me in to look.
I soon came face to face with some of the scariest-looking people I have ever seen. There were clear signs of gang affiliations.
I also saw many children, despite the late hour. That was upsetting to me. Officers told me they report any trouble they observe to Child Protective Services.
The probationer at this apartment checked out. But that wasn’t the case at every address we visited. At one home, at around 2 a.m., officers found their target hiding in a crawl space in the garage. They arrested him on suspicion of violating the terms of his probation.
During this long and eye-opening night, we checked on about a dozen of the thousands of felons the county manages under its realignment plan.
In 2011, the state assigned counties to take responsibility for certain felons who would otherwise be housed in state prison or be supervised by state parole officers.
In response, the county has expanded its jail capacity and has beefed up its rehabilitative programs.
The Probation Department has quietly shouldered a tremendous spike in its caseload. Probation officers supervise nearly 2,200 felons once they are released from custody.
Probation officials credit their emphasis on social and health services in addressing the core issues that drive offenders to break the law. Last fiscal year, the county provided residential and outpatient drug and alcohol and mental health treatment to nearly 2,300 offenders.
Sheriff Bill Gore told the board that officers hold offenders accountable with unannounced visits — like the ones I observed. As I saw, those visits can lead to arrests.
The sheriff shared encouraging — yet sobering — statistics. As of midyear 2014, he said, violent crimes declined to 3.43 crimes per 1,000 people, compared with a rate of 3.45 last year and 3.7 in 2012.
Property crimes during the same period were pegged at 19.4 crimes per 1,000 people, down from 22.23 per 1,000 last year.
Those are good numbers. Reflecting on my ride-along, I saw officers deal with felons one at a time. What a tough job.
Some offenders own scanning devices that track police movement so they can get advance warning before the cops arrive. Sometimes they’re able to run away before that knock on the door.
One offender claimed he didn’t speak English. Another told the cops he was not their man, but they could tell he was by looking at his tattoos. At one location, a woman told police the man on the couch was not the felon they were looking for. He was his twin brother, she said.
Officers were not fooled. And neither was I.
Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.