continued Some residents are neighborly. An alliance devoted to looking out for community interests was created called the Highway 94 Club. "Basically," says Smith, "anybody who lives in the Highway 94 corridor can be a member. Their premise is to work as a citizens' voice on issues that affect anything in this corridor. Here at the Barrett Café is where they have their meetings. It's not a radical group, just people who are interested in traffic, border, and immigration issues -- when that was a problem -- but now it's as much a social club as anything."
The upper and middle classes present few problems for Smith, but the lower classes and drug users are another story. "Many of them don't work or they live off the system, be it welfare, disability, their own family members, or something like that. They are our biggest problem as far as crimes. Mostly theft. They'll steal a car or break in someone's house to steal stuff. They'll steal from each other! There's a criminal element that is more inclined to commit crimes than other people. That's true anywhere, but out here, we know who they are: People who have an incentive to commit crimes to create income. Dopers need money for dope or gas. They'll steal, and a lot of it's opportunistic. If they see a chance to steal something, they will. If they know somebody's gone on vacation, they'll break in their house. We don't have a lot of it, percentage-wise, but we do have it. Your basic family out here is almost never any problem except for the domestic stuff. There are places out here I've never been to because there's never been a need for law enforcement at their house. I may know them socially in the community, but maybe not.
"The thing that works against us out here is distance. People are more clustered in cities, and you mainly have two officers per thousand people. But they don't have a lot of ground to cover, and if you have a problem, that officer won't be far away. But out here, we actually have a higher ratio of officers per capita than in town, but if we had the same ratio, there might only be 3 of us out here instead of 25 [rural deputies]. If you took all the officers on all the city police departments in the county, they cover 40 percent of the land area of the county, and out here in sheriff's rural, there's 25 of us, and we cover 60 percent of the land in the county -- but we also only cover maybe 2 percent of the population."
In his 18 years in Dulzura, the biggest change Smith has noticed came with Operation Gatekeeper, which reduced the flow of human smuggling. "We used to have a lot of illegal-alien traffic through here. The checkpoints really cut the traffic down. I don't do much to help the Border Patrol find aliens, but if I run across a group, I will call them and tell them. If an alien is robbed or beaten, that's my jurisdiction. When there was a lot of traffic, we'd get a lot of aliens being robbed or an occasional rape. Most of the time, there's not much you can do, because they can't identify the suspect, and the suspect is gone anyway. It might be days after the event before you have contact with the victim, because they won't report a crime unless the Border Patrol catches them. If they are not caught, they just keep going and absorb their loss. They don't trust law enforcement anyway, because in Mexico, there's so much corruption; plus, they know that they're here illegally. They don't generally seek us out."
Smith's other big issue, traffic, is driven by Dulzura's proximity to the Tecate border. "There's a lot of traffic between town [San Diego] and Tecate. There aren't any more roads than there used to be, but 94 has become an incredible problem. It's a two-lane road that hasn't been improved in many, many years. They've put more turnouts here and there and widened a few sections and taken out a few curves. All that does is make the traffic faster. The problem is, with Tecate and the maquiladoras, the population of Tecate has mushroomed. A lot of Tecate residents work on this side of the border. The truck traffic from the maquiladoras -- they don't drive from Tecate to San Diego via Tijuana; they want to drive on the north side of the border on 94, because the road is much better. But it's a two-lane road, and they're holding up traffic and making people pass where they shouldn't. They're spilling loads, because there's still a lot of curves in the road. The trucks hold up people in cars, they cause accidents, and they crash every once in a while. The majority of the trucks are Mexican trucks, and they're not as safe as American trucks. The Highway Patrol inspects a lot of trucks at the Tecate crossing, but they can't do them all. We've had a lot of people killed in traffic. And in the morning rush hours, the traffic heading west from Tecate is so heavy, it's almost like a two-lane freeway, the way people pass each other. If you are driving eastbound during those hours, you're taking your life in your own hands."
In spite of his concerns, Smith finds an easygoing manner with traffic violators more effective than being hard on them. "I have no incentive to arrest more people or write more tickets. Nobody's keeping track of that or cares. My assignment is to take care of my beat and keep my beat quiet. If someone is driving too slow and uses the turnouts to allow people to pass them, I won't write a ticket, but if they keep bypassing the turnouts and holding traffic up, I will write a ticket. That's almost as dangerous as passing illegally, because it frustrates people, and they end up passing when they shouldn't."