Residents focus on drug-related crimes at sheriff’s meeting
By Karen Brainard
Heavy drug use in Ramona and how it leads to crime was the main topic of concern among those attending sheriff’s Lt. James Bovet’s first Citizens Advisory Group meeting.
Sixteen people attended the Feb. 28 meeting in the library, including several who work with drug and alcohol recovery programs, and one man who was the victim of a robbery by heroin addicts.
“We have a bad heroin problem here in Ramona,” said Les Brennan, a registered recovery worker and counselor.
“We lost thousands of dollars of equipment,” said theft victim Tom Cassidy. “It’s a core group of guys here who are causing the majority of problems. The only thing that’s going to solve that is enforcement.”
“Since you came on board, it’s been better,” Cassidy told Bovet.
The lieutenant took charge at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Ramona station in September 2012 and set up an intelligence-led policing program. Each month detectives, and members from patrol, crime prevention and other units meet to analyze trends.
“Every 30 days we look at crime trends in Ramona,” explained Bovet. “Is it car burglaries? Is it stolen vehicles? I use that as a way to actually place my resources in the community.”
Bovet said his station has been focusing heavily on Main Street and said there is a strong theft problem in Ramona.
”One of the common denominators is drug problems,” he said.
Because of that, law enforcement is really focusing on drug users and dealers, said Bovet.
Brennan said the drug use needs to be suppressed and he emphasized the need for teaching drug prevention programs to children at an early age. He also talked about the benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the community that are open to recovering drug users.
Heather Dixon, who works as a healthcare professional and treatment counselor for McAlister Institute, said the average age of a client used to be 17; now it’s 12.
“I’m just floored,” she said. “It appears, and I know it’s not the truth, that nothing is moving forward, there’s not even a dent in it (drug use).”
“I guarantee you, we’ve dented it,” Bovet responded. “I can’t go into specifics, but I can tell you we’ve dented it right now. We’re pushing hard. That was really my main focus.”
“We’re being smart about it. We’re actually going after the people who are involved in crimes because of drugs,” he said.
Bovet, who has been in law enforcement for 25 years, said heroin was his specialty during the five years he spent in the sheriff’s narcotics division.
“I’ve pretty much been dealing with heroin my whole career,” he added.
Bovet said heroin is a problem throughout the county. It is bad in Poway, he said, but worse in Ramona.
A 23-year-old female said part of the problem is that there is not enough for young people to do in Ramona, especially if they cannot drive.
Celeste Young, program manager with North Inland Community Prevention Program, said more parents need to get involved, attend programs on drug use, and realize the issue is wide-spread among young people.
When Bovet was asked about the drug pipeline to Ramona, he said, “It’s the proximity to the border.” A network of people go there and bring them back to the community, he explained.
When he joined the Ramona station, the community’s crime rate was the worst in the county, said Bovet. The numbers will probably increase for a while as sheriff’s officials are discovering more thefts and make more arrests, he added.
“But then it will start trending lower,” he said.
According to the lieutenant, during the recent break-up of a burglary ring, property was found that was never reported stolen or residents didn’t realize was stolen.
Stolen property is often sold at swap meets or on craigslist to purchase drugs or traded for drugs, Bovet said. The overgrown Santa Maria Creek was also broached with residents complaining that drug addicts live in the creek bed. Sgt. Dan Vengler said the “camps” consistently change within the heavy vegetation.
Bovet said it is a complicated matter to clean out the creek bed because many different agencies are involved, but it is being addressed.
When one resident referred to a “party house” in her neighborhood, Vengler advised citizens to call and give information if they suspect something illegal or criminal is going on near them. The non-emergency 24-hour line is 760-789-1200.
“Sometimes what you’re calling about could be the last little piece of a puzzle,” Bovet said.
The lieutenant asked those at the meeting to fill out a form if they are interested in being on a citizens advisory committee. Bovet said he would like to start with five people, representing a cross-section of the community.
Anyone with questions may contact Crime Prevention Specialist Barbara Wallace at Barbara.Wallace.sdsheriffs.org.
The next Citizens Advisory Group meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 9, in the Ramona Library Community Room.
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