As we make an inventory of the things we are thankful for, it would be very easy for those of us who live in Oceanside to overlook something we absolutely must not take for granted.
Nothing could be more important than the safety of our neighborhoods.
The economic profile of Oceanside may be poised to take a giant leap forward with the soon to-be-opening Summerhill Suites. But what if our town is overridden with violent crime? What good will a swanky new hotel do?
On this Thanksgiving weekend we owe an overwhelming thank you to the sworn officers who protect us. But in order to explain an amazing fact, I must first point out an ugly reality.
We have gangs in Oceanside. We also have murders. Since August 2011, Oceanside has suffered a total of 17 murders within our city limits.
That figure will not be reprinted in any Chamber of Commerce flier. But it is, nevertheless, a fact we have to deal with.
The latest murder victim was 18. He was shot and found face down on Nov. 15 near Cleveland and Neptune Streets. The police say he and his assailant were gang affiliates.
Two days later the OPD had the suspect in jail.
Oceanside has its share of murders. We’ve had eight this year alone — six were gang related. But it sure does seem like the Oceanside Police does a bang up job in catching those who do the murdering.
They do. But this is a difficult statistic to brag about. Talking about it brings up the fact that we have more than our share of seaside homicides.
But we have to talk about it. And let’s also talk about this most amazing fact: of the 17 Oceanside murders since August 2011, the OPD has arrested and/or convicted every single murder suspect.
Let me repeat: that’s 17 for 17.
“Our goal of course is to not have any murders,” says OPD’s Lt. Aaron Doyle. “Behind each of these statistics is a family being ripped apart…But when you do (have a murder) you want to solve it for your community and the victim’s family.”
Doyle supervises the OPD detective squad that oversees crimes of violence, family protection and property crimes.
He can be excused for boasting a bit. “That’s 100 percent solvency over almost 2-1/2 years. “I don’t have figures for other cities. But I bet no other town has that kind of success rate. Just looking at the sheer numbers I think it’s safe to say, if you commit a violent crime in Oceanside, you’re probably going to get caught.”
Doyle says OPD detectives acknowledge the assistance of two outside forces, the Feds (FBI assistance, federal grants) and the citizens of Oceanside.
“If nobody talks to us, we’re never going to solve anything. Everybody’s cell phone has a camera. The advent of camera phones and their ability to document things within our community definitely makes law enforcement better. It brings things to life.”
Doyle says the OPD has a well-maintained neighborhood policing team that helps his people know who is who among Oceanside’s various gangs. He credits a uniformed gang unit and the plainclothes gang detectives who “support us with intelligence and information.”
He says various community resource centers around town help keep kids off the street and involved in constructive activities. “We have a two pronged approach. We want to motivate kids from getting involved in the first place.”
There’s the carrot. And then there’s the stick.
“We want to use any resource available to us to identify and apprehend the suspects involved.”
One of those resources is the controversial gang injunction, which allows police to use tools against gang members that would not be legal otherwise.
“It’s an incredible tool we can use. In its infancy, 20 years ago or so, people were bringing up the fact that you could be arrested by just hanging out with your cousin. But we’re talking documented gang members who have been vetted by our gang unit. These gang injunctions define a specific geographic area. Gang injunctions are directed at specific criminal activity. Our job is to find who is the most likely to have done it and why. Gang crimes are by far the hardest to solve since its hard to get people to talk.”
Detective work is a science to Doyle and his crew.
“We follow trends. If there is a specific type of crime that is happening with greater regularity, we analyze it so that we can determine when and where this particular crime is likely to happen again. It’s all about analysis. You have to evolve as an agency. These days it’s not just about footwork. We’re in a technological age and you have to embrace that technology.”
Those of us who have lived in Oceanside for a while remember a period in the ‘70s and early ‘80s when the OPD seemed more like a group of renegade cowboys than a professional law enforcement organization. We had our favorite story about how “Officer X” would do something outrageous on duty, or how “Officer Y” would hurl an outlandish racial slur at a citizen.
Those days seem as distant as the “Tan Your Hide in Oceanside” billboard.
I point out to Doyle that we hear about other agencies (like SDPD) which, because of their lower pay scale, often lose staff after a few years because their officers transfer to better paying agencies.
I also note that if the OPD had a staff turnover like that, it may be tough to maintain an effective, knowledgeable force.
“I will say that in 20 years this is the best I have ever seen this department,” says Doyle, a former Marine who was raised in Michigan. “I don’t think our agency has a lot of people moving on to other places, in my opinion.
“We take pride in the job we do every day. Anybody in this department isn’t so much looking for a pat on the back. It’s more like, when I go home I can say I stuck up for someone who couldn’t stick up for themselves. And we put a bad person in jail.”
To Lt. Aaron Doyle and his crew, we give thanks.
Oceanside born and raised, Ken Leighton is an Oceanside business owner. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org