When 49 individuals involved in a Fallbrook-based drug and weapons trafficking ring were arrested the week of Sept. 17 in one powerful law enforcement sweep, dubbed Operation Cruel Summer, history was made.
“This was the largest bust that focused almost exclusively on the Fallbrook area,” said Lt. Todd Richardson, commander of the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation. “There have been some larger ones that have taken place throughout North County with targets in multiple areas. This operation focused on the Fallbrook area; even the few collateral arrests either lived in Fallbrook or had strong ties to the area.”
Richardson said it was outstanding local footwork that helped build the complex case.
“It is interesting to note that even with the size and scope of this operation, all the data was developed from the street level; informant management played a big part in this,” said Richardson. “The deputies and detectives did an absolutely fantastic job on this.”
Multiple agencies assisted in the large operation to provide specialized help. Some 246 deputies and federal agents took part in the effort that had been in the works for six months. Agencies that lent their support included the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), Border Patrol, U.S. Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, and more.
“The cooperative effort and the ability we have to bring in all the extra resources made this very successful,” said Richardson. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Dept. has garnered what Richardson called an “excellent” national reputation for its technical and tactical operations.
“We are very proud of our department and the good job it does,” he said.
Working the streets
Significant manpower went into gathering intelligence on the trafficking ring at the street level. Deputies on the streets of Fallbrook have worked to create relationships with citizens in order to assist in this effort.
“Those connections bring the COPPS (Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving) deputies in front of the public to hear their concerns and tips where there may be problem areas of town or suspicious persons frequenting a certain residence or business,” explained Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Feliccia. “Also, we have many citizens who call us (communications center) on a daily basis to report suspicious activity at a residence/business, or a suspicious person(s). Many times having concerned citizens call in with those suspicious hunches results in deputies making an arrest, and at the very least, contacting that person or residence and investigating the issue.”
Danger these rings present to the community
Illegal drug sales lead to myriad problems, most of which affect the law-abiding community members.
“Individuals who are involved in illegal drugs pose many problems,” said Feliccia. “Usually, many of those individuals don’t have the money to support their drug habit. So, in many cases those individuals are stealing and committing many of our crimes in the Fallbrook area in order to support their drug habit.”
“A lot of our residential, commercial, and vehicle burglaries are a result of drug users committing those crimes then selling their stolen goods to get money to support their drug addiction,” he continued. “Another problem that individuals who are involved in illegal drugs pose to our neighborhoods is that these drugs are getting in the hands of our students.”
“We see a variety of illegal drugs at our schools in Fallbrook, and its not just marijuana anymore,” said Feliccia. “Drugs range from methamphetamine (meth), and Ecstasy, to new designer drugs like bath salts and 2C-E (a designer LSD-type drug).
Feliccia explained that working cases like Operation Cruel Summer “is so instrumental in getting the drug users and drug sellers behind bars, so they can’t get drugs into our students’ hands.”
Knowing where the problems are
Feliccia said deputies are well aware of the problem areas demographically in the greater Fallbrook area.
“We have many great deputies and detectives who have worked in this community for many years, so they know the community and the people well,” said Feliccia. “After three to six months, even a new deputy would have a pretty good idea of where the primary problem areas of Fallbrook were located, and who the main problem people are.”
Feliccia said the network of deputies that work Fallbrook in their schedule number around 40 and four detectives are assigned to the area.
“We have to be able to communicate well with each other and know what is going on in Fallbrook,” said Feliccia. “One of the ways we do this is by having monthly meetings called the Fallbrook Intelligence Group. At these meetings, one person from each department from the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation attends along with a Sheriff’s crime analyst. We discuss current hot spots in town, where the most calls for service are being generated from.”
“We also look at current trends – like commercial burglaries, residential burglaries, etc. that may be happening in a certain part of town,” he added.
“We use information from the analyst to help us target certain areas and/or particular people of interest,” said Feliccia. “Having the Fallbrook Intelligence Group meetings helps patrol deputies, COPPS deputies, and detectives stay focused on particular areas of the Fallbrook community.”
Apartment communities are problematic
In building the case regarding this particular drug and weapons trafficking operation, undercover officers made more than 100 undercover buys.
“A lot of the drug buys during Operation Cruel Summer were done at apartment complexes that are not involved in the Sheriff’s Dept.’s Crime Free Multi Housing program,” said Richardson.
According to department crime prevention specialist John McLelland, criminal activity easily takes root in apartment communities. The reasons for that include the basic premise of an apartment rental.
“Because the residents of an apartment community are of a more transitory nature, they usually do not take pride of ownership like they would if they owned the place themselves,” said McLelland. “Not to mention, those who spend so much money on drugs often cannot afford a house and when you have to move a lot, owning a house is not ideal.”
Richardson said only about one-third of Fallbrook area apartment community properties are participating in the Crime Free Multi-Housing (CFMH) program currently.
“I know [the process to become crime-free] can be difficult, but the end really does justify the means,” said Richardson. “It empowers the complex owners/managers to support us.”
McLelland said the biggest challenge for these particular property owners is “the failure to understand the benefits of becoming a CFMH certified property.”
“There are minimum requirements for certification, which may require a substantial investment to achieve, but in turn make the property a more safe and attractive environment for the residents,” said McLelland. “While the decent resident does not own the overall property, their individual apartment is their home and they want to feel safe from crime and criminal elements while on the property and inside their home. Most people are willing to pay a little more in rent for such assurance.”
Kudos to community members
Richardson said adamantly that community members were the ones that made Operation Cruel Summer as successful as it was.
“The information from the citizens played a very valuable role in this operation,” he said. “The importance of community involvement is critical. I admit it does take time for us to follow up thoroughly on this type of information, but now it’s like a breath of fresh air for the community.”
For citizens that may question whether or not they should report suspicious behavior to the Sheriff’s Dept., Richardson said he always uses the same guideline, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it most likely is a duck. They should make the call and let us look into it.”
Citizens with observations to report should call Crime Stoppers toll free at (888) 580-8477. Calls can be made anonymously.