Pasco Street Crimes Unit gets off to successful start

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 13, 2013 

When police knocked on the door of a Pasco motel room, their intent was to arrest a wanted gang member they knew was inside.

But once the door opened and the odor of marijuana wafted out, officers quickly got a search warrant and ultimately uncovered an alleged den of drugs with almost $3,000 in cash.

The Jan. 30 incident that led to the arrest of three gang members is just one highlight in the first full month of the Pasco Police Department's new Street Crimes Unit, said Capt. Jim Raymond.

The team "produced significant results" in January, with the arrests of 26 people -- 16 of those documented gang members -- and the takedown of a drug house, Raymond reported.

Their focus is the city's continuing gang problem, but the unit -- comprised of one sergeant and three officers -- also is targeting serial crimes and other suspicious activity that deserves a closer look.

"They're not driven by calls to service (like a patrol officer) and they're not like a standard detective where they have a caseload," Raymond told the Herald. "They're actually more of a proactive unit that goes out and conducts investigations on whatever the hot topic of the community is for the week."

Like with a recent rash of daytime burglaries, the Street Crimes Unit focused in on the issue and solved it with arrests so the officers could move on to something else, he said.

The unit also was able to clear 28 outstanding warrants from the system, with some people having multiple warrants. Seventeen arrests led to new criminal charges.

Additionally, the officers made contact with 19 other gang members and three gang members were turned in for probation violations.

The unit was formed in late 2012, but had been in the planning stages for more than a year since Chief Bob Metzger joined the department.

It is comparable to Kennewick's Criminal Apprehension Team and Richland's Street Crimes Unit, which replaced its Proactive Anti-Crime Team.

On Tuesday, Metzger praised his team and said, "I didn't think in my wildest imagination it would be this extremely successful."

The $450,000 price tag covers not only the four officers, but also start-up costs like four new unmarked cars and equipment, including special vests and "typical spy equipment," Metzger said.

The department hired four additional officers so four seasoned employees could move to the Street Crimes Unit.

It was authorized by the Pasco City Council. The funding is about 40 percent of the city's portion of the public safety sales tax increase that was approved by Franklin County voters in November 2011.

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the numbers from the first month speak for themselves, and indicate there are good things coming with the team devoted to the city on a full-time basis.

"I think it's a very good start," he said. "My hope is that they can keep it up at that level, and we'll be much farther ahead in terms of safety and sense of security in the community."

Metzger thanked the citizens for passing this sales tax and hopes they know their money is being put to great use.

"We think we can keep the crime rate low in Pasco like it has been the past several years," he said.

The Motel 6 incident led to three charges each against Ulises Ramirez, 21, and Miguel Leon, 19, for possession of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana with intent to deliver. The Pasco men both face April 3 trials.

A search of the room allegedly turned up three ounces of meth, two ounces of powder cocaine, eight ounces of marijuana, baggies of rock cocaine, mushrooms, hash and miscellaneous prescription pills. Police also reportedly found a digital scale, packaging baggies and smoking pipes in the room, and $2,964 in cash in Leon's wallet.

Prosecutors did not file drug charges against another 19-year-old man who was arrested the next day as part of the investigation.

The unit also watched a West Shoshone Street house for several days after neighbors complained it was a drug house. Officers arrested Linda J. Feller, 63, on three warrants and while searching her found a glass pipe with residue, a used syringe, a small digital scale and a bag with heroin and another with crack cocaine, court documents said.

Her trial is set April 17 on one count of possessing heroin. Her landlord was notified of the alleged narcotics trafficking at their rental property, and this week reportedly gave her a three-day eviction notice.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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