Tustin PD runs Crime Impact operation, arrests seven

By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher

The probationer ran his fingertips over his tattoo-covered forearm.

“See this shield?” he said, pointing to a circular tattoo with a black, bold pattern. “I had to earn that.

“I had to kill two high-ranking Mexican Mafia members while I was inside.”

The man pointed out two other markings he said he earned for violent crime he committed while serving time in prison.

Tustin Police Sgt. Manny Arzate has no way to confirm what the man is saying is true, but he was inclined to believe him.

The man, wearing baggy jeans and a heavy silver chain around his neck, then pulled up his white-ribbed tank top revealing 11 bullet wound scars.

He lifted his chin, exposing the puffy pink scar that showed where one of the bullets exited.

There was no disputing the marks on his skin.

“I was in a coma for almost a year,” he tells Arzate. “But I’m done with that. I have two little girls now.”

“Good for you, man,” Arzate tells him.

Tustin PD Sgt. Manny Arzate works with probation officers on the Special Enforcement Detail team as they check on probationers. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD Sgt. Manny Arzate works with probation officers on the Special Enforcement Detail team as they check on probationers.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The man said he no longer is involved in gang life, but Tustin Police know he hasn’t sworn off all crime.

At least, in recent years.

Arzate was questioning the man on a step outside a Tustin home as three TPD officers and two OC Probation officers were searching his house.

The man is on probation for an assault with a deadly weapon conviction and officers are checking to ensure he is in compliance.

After a thorough search, the officers said goodbye and encouraged the man to continue on the path he appeared to be on.

The man, whom police did not want to identify, was one of 25 probationers police searched on Wednesday as part of an operation they call Operation Crime Impact.

The effort, modeled after a similar enforcement program in Long Beach, includes a department-wide task force that hits the streets quarterly to target various issues from traffic concerns to violent crime.

Police use data compiled by TPD Crime Analyst Suzanna Howard to help focus their efforts on the areas that need it most.

“We’re always reacting to what the statistics say,” said Det. Chris Gerber, who organized the Sept. 16 operation. “Now, Suzanna is using data to forecast what crime may occur and where … so we can be there when it happens.”

A Tustin PD officer knocks on a door looking for a probationer as other officers stand by. No one was home. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A Tustin PD officer knocks on a door looking for a probationer as other officers stand by. No one was home.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Operation Crime Impact, which included 46 officers from Tustin PD and Orange County Probation, was started 15 years ago by Lts. Jeff Blair, Todd Bullock and John Strain in an effort to dissuade criminals and keep the convicted accountable.

Members of the Gang Unit and Special Enforcement Detail checked on probationers and parolees, while traffic officers saturated intersections with the highest number of traffic collisions and drunken driving arrests.

Parking control also got in on the action and surveyed areas known for illegal parking issues.

In the early evening on Sept. 16, the officers gathered in the parking lot of a vacated fire station as detectives and lieutenants briefed the team on what to expect for the night.

“The way things are going in law enforcement today, please be careful out there,” Bullock told the officers before sending them off.

Tustin PD officers gather at a command center near an old fire station in Tustin for a Crime Impact Team briefing before heading out to target areas. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD officers gather at a command center near an old fire station in Tustin for a Crime Impact Team briefing before heading out to target areas.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Five teams were given a list of 38 probationers they would target for a search.

“This isn’t random,” Gerber said. “These are all people who have convictions for some type of crime and we’re just there to make sure they’re in compliance.”

While on probation, little is private.

Convicted criminals are subject to searches by police to ensure they are  livingby the rules.

As the operation showed, some of them don’t.

Members of one team from the Special Enforcement Detail were tasked with contacting a list of probationers with varying crimes on their rap sheet from assault with a deadly weapon to burglary to drug charges.

The night featured a strange cast of characters, including an angry grandmother who identified herself as a retired school teacher.

The sweet-looking elderly woman with the cropped haircut repeatedly yelled, and cursed, at officers as they checked to see if her grandson — on probation for drug charges — was home.

He wasn’t.

The officers thanked her politely before leaving the woman standing in her living room, her hands square on her hips.

Then there was the guy with the ladies’ underwear and jar of vaseline stuffed in his pockets, his phone queued up to a pornographic clip.

Police caught up with him near a pool at a mobile home park and arrested him for failure to check in and suspected drug use while on probation.

There was also the couple— both on probation for drug charges.

The woman was released from jail two days ago after she violated her probation when she siced her pit bulls on an officer, resulting in an assault on an officer charge.

The residents told police they’ve turned their life around because they want to be good parents to their son.

After a methodical search in the stuffy apartment that backed up to the 5 Freeway, officers were on to the next search.

Police arrested another man after they found two illegal knives and a bag of marijuana in his apartment.

His girlfriend, who was also on probation, stayed behind in their apartment.

Detective Brian Poling briefs Tustin PD officers gathered for the Crime Impact Team operation before heading out to target areas. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Detective Brian Poling briefs Tustin PD officers gathered for the Crime Impact Team operation before heading out to target areas.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In all, Operation Crime Impact turned out seven arrests:  four felony arrests — three probation violations and one warrant arrest — and three misdemeanor arrests.

Ten cars were impounded and 26 drivers were cited for various violations. There were also 28 parking citations written up, police said.

The purpose, Strain said, is to saturate the community and send a message to would-be criminals that Tustin is a proactive city.

“We absolutely think it works,” he said. “If there is somebody coming to Tustin to offend … they know they will get caught here.”

Detective Brian Poling briefs Tustin PD officers gathered for the Crime Impact Team operation before heading out to target areas. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Detective Brian Poling briefs Tustin PD officers gathered for the Crime Impact Team operation before heading out to target areas.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A neighbor peeks out to see what is going on as Tustin PD officers check on someone who is on probation during Tustin’s Crime Impact Team operation. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A neighbor peeks out to see what is going on as Tustin PD officers check on someone who is on probation during Tustin’s Crime Impact Team operation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Police Officer Robert Nelson, left, joins other PD officers at the command center for a Crime Impact Team briefing before heading out to target areas. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Police Officer Robert Nelson, left, joins other PD officers at the command center for a Crime Impact Team briefing before heading out to target areas.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD's Crime Impact Team targets key areas with probation/parole searches, warrant services and traffic enforcement with high visibility enforcement.