New dis­tinc­tion hon­ors of­fi­cers for gun ar­rests

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Robert Sa­longa rsa­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­

SAN JOSE >> Of­fi­cer An­thony Baza, an 11-year San Jose Po­lice Depart­ment veteran, pur­sues the city’s most dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals and sus­pects as a mem­ber of the Vi­o­lent Crimes En­force­ment Team.

A reg­u­lar shift will of­ten en­tail high-risk ar­rests of shoot­ing and as­sault sus­pects and gang mem­bers, many of them pre­sumed to be armed. To Baza, both get­ting a sus­pect into cus­tody and tak­ing a gun out of cir­cu­la­tion on the street can have a pro­nounced ef­fect.

“The largest im­pact is you could pre­vent a shoot­ing from hap­pen­ing, or at the very least stop some­one from in­tim­i­dat­ing some­body be­cause they’re car­ry­ing a gun,” he said.

Baza is one of the in­au­gu­ral re­cip­i­ents of the depart­ment’s newly in­sti­tuted Gun Seizure Award, a dis­tinc­tion given to of­fi­cers whose en­ter­pris­ing and alert po­lice work

leads to firearms be­ing re­cov­ered, typ­i­cally from felons barred from hav­ing guns, or from peo­ple sus­pected of vi­o­lent crimes.

The gun-spe­cific award, which comes in the form of a uni­form in­signia, is rel­a­tively rare in state law en­force­ment, and SJPD wanted to be one of the se­lect agen­cies to do it, Po­lice Chief Ed­die Gar­cia said.

“We have awards for the amaz­ing work of­fi­cers do when they take mul­ti­ple stolen ve­hi­cles off the street, and for tak­ing in­tox­i­cated driv­ers off the street. What we didn’t have is recog­ni­tion for do­ing the in­ves­tiga­tive work of tak­ing guns off the street,” Gar­cia said. “For years, that has gone on with­out proper recog­ni­tion. What more dan­ger­ous job is there than an in­ves­tiga­tive stop to take a loaded firearm off a crim­i­nal?”

At a cer­e­mony Thurs­day, Baza was among 30 of­fi­cers who re­ceived the dis­tinc­tions. Of­fi­cers who con­duct three self-ini­ti­ated ar­rests that in­volve the seiz­ing of firearms in a 12-month pe­riod — ei­ther

through street pa­trol or through de­tec­tive work — are el­i­gi­ble for a rect­an­gu­lar uni­form bar pin with one sil­ver star. Six ar­rests in that pe­riod yields two sil­ver stars — the dis­tinc­tion Baza earned — and nine such ar­rests earns three sil­ver stars, which will be known as the Mas­ter Gun Seizure Award.

On street pa­trol alone, SJPD of­fi­cers seized 175 guns dur­ing ar­rests in 2018, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment fig­ures. Dozens more were re­cov­ered by spe­cial­ized teams like VCET and the depart­ment’s Metro spe­cial-en­force­ment unit.

“These of­fi­cers are not just find­ing guns, they’re tak­ing mul­ti­ple armed crim­i­nals off the street,” Gar­cia said. “If you look at our homi­cides this year, if many of those in­di­vid­u­als had been stopped be­fore, they wouldn’t have oc­curred.”

Four of the city’s five homi­cides to date in­volved street shoot­ings, one in­volv­ing a grand­mother who po­lice and wit­nesses say was shot and killed by a stray bul­let in an East San Jose neigh­bor­hood last month, and even­tu­ally led to the ar­rest of a 17-year-old boy. That res­onated with three­star awardee Of­fi­cer Fran­cisco

Vallejo, a VCET mem­ber who has worked for the depart­ment for 13 years.

“In the past cou­ple of years, I’ve seen un­in­tended vic­tims get shot and killed be­cause of these guns,” Vallejo said. “I’m will­ing to take the risk to not have to see an­other in­no­cent per­son be­come a vic­tim of gun vi­o­lence.”

The dis­tinc­tion tracks with a broader em­pha­sis on gun crimes by county law en­force­ment, amid a na­tional back­drop of in­creas­ingly fre­quent mass shoot­ings.

The Santa Clara County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice has in­creased its use of Gun Vi­o­lence Re­strain­ing Or­ders, emer­gency gun­based pro­tec­tive or­ders that can be filed to seize guns from some­one who has firearms and has ex­hib­ited threat­en­ing be­hav­ior, but has avoided ar­rest. The re­strain­ing or­ders have elicited no­table op­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially from gun-rights groups.

Gar­cia ac­knowl­edged the po­lit­i­cal con­text of ad­dress­ing gun is­sues, but said the work honored Thurs­day shouldn’t court any con­tro­versy.

“The state of Cal­i­for­nia talks a lot about gun con­trol. Why don’t we start by

en­forc­ing gun laws we have on the books?” he said. “It starts with us.”

De­tec­tive Mike White, a mem­ber of the depart­ment’s re­vived Bur­glary Pre­ven­tion Unit and a sea­soned rob­bery in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said his ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that when a gun is

seized from a vi­o­lent crime sus­pect, it can be a miss­ing link to solv­ing other crimes, and can have an ef­fect be­yond that of an in­di­vid­ual ar­rest.

“A lot of these vi­o­lent rob­bery crews, they are armed with weapons they share among the group,” White said. “When you’re able to get guns out of their hands, you’re get­ting not just the in­di­vid­ual, but you’re tak­ing away their means of com­mit­ting these crimes.”

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