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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Going on a Police Raid

This is why I originally got into broadcasting, and later, the newspaper business!

The excitement, the fun, the adventure; facing a bit of potential danger, letting the adrenaline rush go to work and making one feel young again.

We received an invitation to accompany a police raid on seven different Escondido bars where ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) undercover investigations over the past six months had identified 13 individuals who had sold narcotics to the undercover cops. Ten of the individuals were employees, three were patrons. The suspects were scattered over the seven different bars. As it happened 14 individuals were arrested and there are others still being sought.

We met at 9pm at the Escondido Police Station for a briefing by good friend, Lieutenant Craig Carter, then, at 9:45, adjourned to our staging area at the Bank of America parking lot where about 12 other police cars, both marked and unmarked rallied. We re-introduced ourselves to Sgt. Dave Cramer, who led our group. It was important he knew we were media so he could guide us to the story areas and make sure one of the raiding cops didn’t slap cuffs on us.

Our group of cops was assigned to Pounders, a so-called sports bar that has had an unsavory reputation for some time as a hangout for bikers, as a source for illegal (and illegal prescription) drugs, and for occasional prostitution. A lot of the downtown businesses are not happy that Pounders is in business and located where they are . . . but unless and until they broke some law(s), very little could be done to get them out of the area. Possibly tonight’s action may result in a suspension or revocation of their ABC license, in which case they will likely slink out of town.

We were advised at the 9pm briefing that because they were bars that were being raided and there was alcohol and/or narcotics involved, there might also be weapons . . . so we needed to stay on our toes and be observant. With this announcement the adrenaline began to pump a bit. Adventure! The possibility of action!

All seven raids were to commence at precisely 10:15pm. At 10:13pm, we left the parking lot/staging area, for the approximate two block drive to our target, Pounders, located a t 125 W. Grand Avenue, right in the heart of downtown Escondido. We were instructed to be the last car in the caravan of about 12 police cars, to park our car, and to approach the site where Sgt. Cramer would be monitoring the situation and would clear us to enter the building when it was secure and safe. We were allowed to take photos from both outside and inside the building.

We were asked to only take rear shots of ABC and police personnel as many of them work undercover and it was important to not blow their cover. We respected that request.

The raid begins. All patrons are instructed to leave the premises; that they will be allowed back in with 30 minutes or so, that this is just a ‘routine ABC inspection.’ This is to keep the operation low key and not create potential problems with an estimated 60-75 patrons.

Both Evelyn and I were impressed with the military precision with which this operation was handled. All seven targets were hit at precisely 10:15, all police units returned to headquarters for a de-brief at 11pm.. Very, very efficient. In our case, very smooth, no problems at all with unruly patrons or staff.

I wish we had been assigned to one of the other targets, El Rodeo Bar, 425 North Rose Street. There, I learned later, there was a lot of action. El Rodeo, as the name suggests, is a bar largely patronized by Latinos. When the officers made entry they found a number of women walking around the bar area in either lingerie or no clothing at all; they discovered that several women were having sex in the back. Three arrests were made here and one woman was taken into custody for a parole violation.

Another reporter with the San Diego Union-Tribune said, . . . “this was an interesting raid. Men were fondling the women, very intimately, women were running around in sheer nighties, or with nothing at all. And sex in the back rooms was fairly common at this facility. Almost all of the women, as well as the patrons, were Latinos.’ Officers didn’t routinely check as to whether there were illegal immigrants in the place or not. That wasn’t the purpose of the raid. The purpose was to nail narcotics violators.

For those who live in or around the Escondido area, the bars hit were, in addition to Pounders and El Rodeo, Thee Spot, 945 West Valley Parkway, Club Anitas, 1320 East Valley Parkway, Senor Taquito, 1620 East Valley Parkway, Escondido Sports Pub, 1205 South Escondido Boulevard, and Woodies, 717 North Escondido Boulevard.

I’ve lived in Escondido since 1970, Evelyn since 1958. Neither of us have ever seen an operation this large, nor this well planned and executed. Those of us who have been in the military, or law enforcement, would have really appreciated how well these raids were coordinated and completed.

All suspects arrested face charges of sales and possession of illegal drugs. In addition. all seven bars face possible administrative action which could include suspension or revocation of their licenses to sell alcohol.

Just another typical evening for a couple of journalists who aren’t so young anymore, but still enjoy the thrill of covering an exciting story, and who admire outstanding law enforcement.

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