Samantha Meachem, El-Amin's colleague at Bay Vista, is also disappointed with the police, especially in connection with the unsolved murders. Like Miller, she thinks if the murders had occurred in a different area, the police would investigate more. "And when they can't find anything," she adds, "they say, 'Oh, it's gangs,' and they drop it."
Adds El-Amin, "There could be a real crook coming in from outside the area. Come to think of it, there were no witnesses to the murder of Meram inside his store."
Law enforcement is not likely to take its eyes off gangs anytime soon, however. Says Lieutenant Vince Villalvazo, head of the SDPD's special gangs unit, increased police attention to gang crime in the year leading up to last July had reduced such crime by 15 percent. Yet he cites the occurrence of 11 gang-related homicides in the same period. So even before Lansdowne was named its new chief, the police department had increased the number of its gang-suppression teams from two to three. (Each team has six officers and a sergeant.)
"Specialty units, however valuable they may be, are drawn from the ranks of patrol," says the Police Officers Association's Farrar, a 32-year veteran of the SDPD. "Patrol officers are the ones who answer 911 calls, which are our highest priority." Even with San Diego's police staffing at its current low levels, he adds, a specialty like the gang unit is not going to be eliminated, because gang problems are too evident throughout the city. But others, such as the inebriation and community policing units, may have to be cut to avoid robbing the patrol of its forces.
When Susan Golding was mayor, the city made a five-year commitment to raise its ratio of police officers from 1.65 to 2.0 per 1000 residents. But time passed, says Farrar, and the city council lost sight of its pledge. "Other large cities," he says, "have ratios double, triple, and quadruple that of San Diego. But we're used to operating at this level."
Farrar thinks that San Diego's police suffer from their own success. Over the years, he says, San Diego has developed an excellent reputation for its police work. That may explain how the city has been able to hire Chief Lansdowne at an annual salary nearly $17,000 below what he was making in the smaller department of San Jose. Farrar also points to nationwide praise the department received for its success in controlling the 2001 Biotechnology Conference. Similar gatherings held elsewhere, such as the antiglobalization conferences in Seattle and Genoa, Italy, caused widespread chaos and lawlessness.
But, according to Farrar, the city council is not facing up to what's going on in the police department. Take the health-care plan provided for its officers, he says, which covers all health costs of unmarried personnel. "But officers who have families," says Farrar, "pay out of their own pockets an extra $150 to $200 per payday to get their spouse and children covered." He adds that Mayor Murphy even voted against the modest increases in officer pay that the last contract negotiations granted and that the whole council eventually approved.
"The police [just] react these days," says Lincoln Park resident Mike Miller. "They don't seem to be as proactive as they were 15 or 20 years ago. Now they're going around to scrape up all the garbage, coming in to deal with it after the fact."