Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that more than 200 agents from his Gang Suppression Enforcement Program and other law enforcement agencies today arrested 37 members of two vicious gangs responsible for a rampage of violence — including more than three dozen murders and 200 shootings — that terrorized the citizens of Salinas and nearby areas.
Today’s mass arrests culminated an eight-month operation, code-named “Operation Knockout,” aimed at apprehending members of the Norteños and Sureños gangs that turned Salinas into a hub of murder, robbery and drug dealing.
The operation targeted the most dangerous gang leaders in the Salinas area. In addition to the arrests made today, agents seized 40 pounds of cocaine, 14 pounds of marijuana, nine ounces of methamphetamine, $34,000 in cash, and 12 guns. An additional 57 arrests were made before today’s sweep.
“Operation Knockout was designed to restore safety to the streets of Salinas,” said Brown. “Citizens in John Steinbeck’s hometown deserve better than having to endure a violent crime rate that’s three times the national average. We owed it to the people of Salinas to arrest these out-of-control gang members and ensure a heightened sense of personal security throughout the city.”
Some 44 state and federal search warrants were served throughout Salinas, San Jose and other areas of Monterey County. Today’s arrests dealt a major blow to the Norteños and Sureños, two of Monterey County’s largest gangs, who are major distributors of powder cocaine, rock cocaine, and crystal methamphetamine throughout the county and are linked to dozens of homicides and shootings.
Brown also announced today that he has formed a task force to maintain today’s crackdown against drugs and major crimes. The Monterey County Narcotic and Violence Task Force will be overseen by the California Department of Justice and will include the California Highway Patrol, Marina Police Department, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Monterey Police Department, Salinas Police Department and Seaside Police Department.
In 2008 and 2009, there were 55 homicides in the city of Salinas. Based on the city’s population of 148,000, its violent crime rate was more than three times the national average. Only two of the 55 homicides were unrelated to gang violence. During this same reporting period, there were more than 200 reported shootings related to gang violence.
To combat the violence permeating the city, Brown deployed his Gang Suppression agents to work with the Salinas Police Department in a proactive approach to the gang problem. Special Agents identified the key gang leaders and created a complex investigative plan intended to make a significant impact on violent crime in the city. During the investigation, agents determined that much of the violence stemmed from a struggle between the Norteños and Sureños street gangs within Salinas over turf dominance, and more significantly, over control of illicit drug trafficking. The gangs ruled through intimidation and violence.
“Today’s operation has been a masterpiece of cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,” said Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf. “Today is day-one of Judgment Day!”
Today’s arrests come in addition to 57 prior arrests during the eight-month operation. Over the course of the investigation, agents identified a large cocaine and methamphetamine distribution group that was controlled by Norteños gang members operating in Salinas. The illegal drugs were supplied by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.
More than 200 state, local and federal law enforcement personnel participated in today’s operation. The Attorney General’s Gang Suppression Enforcement Program is part of the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
Other law enforcement agencies that assisted with today’s operation included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; California Highway Patrol; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Monterey County District Attorney’s Office; Monterey County Sheriff’s Department; Salinas Police Department; United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.