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Special Report

Police in South Placer look for ‘shields’ against outside crime

Non-residents committing crimes in Roseville, Rocklin is the new norm
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Recent Arrest: On May 4, an investigation led three Roseville police officers to the apartments at 317 B St., where they found and arrested Carol Puentes, 45, of Citrus Heights on a Sacramento warrant for theft. After searching the apartment, Puentes was also charged with possession of methamphetamine. It was the second time in four months Puentes had been arrested in Roseville on drug-related charges.

Puentes was staying at the apartments with Pamela McDade, 35, of Roseville. McDade is pregnant and was also arrested for possession of methamphetamine.   

 

For Roseville and Rocklin, the darkest news headlines in the last 12 months have mostly been about alleged criminals coming to South Placer County from outside cities, engaging in knife assaults, weapons-dealing, high-speed pursuits and all manner of drug and property offenses.

But out-of-town assailants aren’t just the stuff of splashy media reports: Law enforcement statistics indicate such suspects are responsible for the majority of the area’s crime.

Gangs without borders

The late summer of 2012 came with some sobering revelations about transient gang activity. In August of that month, state and federal law enforcement agents arrested seven reported members of a violent North Sacramento street gang, the Lao Gangster Crips, on charges they sold military-grade, automatic weapons and methamphetamine in the parking lot of Ace Hardware in Roseville. The Sacramento Police Department’s expert on Asian gangs, Detective Chris Starr, told the Press Tribune the Lao Gangster Crips — also known as Lil’ Gangster Crips or LGC — were no strangers to using the kind of guns they were selling.

“They’ve been involved with burglary, auto theft, narcotics, shootings and homicides,” Starr said.     

That same month, detectives from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department began investigating whether a gang-related double-shooting at a Quinceañera at the Placer Fairgrounds was tied to broader battles between Hispanic gangs in California. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said this week the investigation is still ongoing.

Winter of 2013 saw a major instance of violence perpetrated by alleged gang members from Sacramento County. Just after midnight on Feb. 23, a fight erupted in front of the Onyx Club on Main Street in Old Town Roseville. Ribs were battered and skulls were beaten into the pavement before the melee ended with a bloody double-stabbing soon immortalized on websites such as YouTube and “World Hip Hop Star.”

Roseville police arrested a Carmichael man and Rio Linda man for the knife assaults, charging them with attempted murder and committing a crime on behalf of a known street gang.  

Clusters of crimes

Gang members are not the only breed of criminals crossing into Roseville and Rocklin to put the public at risk. On the afternoon of Feb. 13, a citizen reportedly spotted Donnell Mark and Harold Malbrough, two 19-year-olds from the Bay Area, burglarizing parked cars at the Rocky Ridge Town Center. When Roseville police officers attempted to detain the suspects, Mark and Malbrough allegedly led an erratic, high-speed pursuit through the east part of the city into Rocklin.

Together, Roseville and Rocklin officers captured both men after a brief manhunt near 5 Star Boulevard.

A similar incident happened again April 19, when a Roseville police officer noticed a car reported stolen from Sacramento weaving dangerously across Interstate 80. It was 3 a.m. when the officer tried to pull the vehicle over. The suspect behind the wheel, 32-year-old Joseph Simmons of Citrus Heights, allegedly took off at a high-rate of speed. Roseville police chased Simmons into Lincoln, where he was eventually captured. Authorities said Simmons had a loaded handgun with him throughout the pursuit.  

Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn understands why residents are concerned about gang members, as well as defendants that fit the mold of Mark, Malbrough and Simmons; however, for Hahn, a suspect like 24-year-old Keane Lee of Sacramento represents the broader criminal patterns challenging the city’s peace. Lee was arrested in Roseville on April 17 — allegedly caught by officers at 2:30 a.m. in the middle of stealing the catalytic converter off a Toyota Tahoe. Metal theft is a crime that has plagued Roseville in 2012 and 2013. The officers who arrested Lee stated he was in possession of an entire list of Roseville home addresses he was “scoping out” as victims.     

Hahn acknowledged that individuals with criminal thinking sometimes look at Roseville and Rocklin as target-rich environments because the cities are known for a high standard of living.

“But it’s not just nice neighborhoods drawing criminals here,” Hahn said, “Roseville is a central destination in Placer County. We have a lot of amenities, from the Galleria, the Fountains and the Auto Mall to Old Town’s nightclub scene and Denio’s.”

The Roseville Police Department’s crime analyst, Dee Dee Gunther, said statistics prove more people being arrested in the city come from other areas.

“Last year, 55 percent of suspects arrested were from outside of Roseville,” Gunther explained. “When it comes to those committing property crimes, it’s a larger number: 70 percent of all suspects arrested last year for property crimes were non-residents.”   

Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence has seen a similar trend in his city.

“More than 50 percent of people arrested by the Rocklin Police Department have historically been criminals who don’t live here,” Lawrence pointed out. “They come from out of town to victimize our citizens, and over one-third of those we arrest in Rocklin live in Sacramento County.”

The shields

Hahn and Lawrence view patrol officers and their relationship with residents and business owners as the frontline in combating the regional crime washing into South Placer County.

“When a crime happens, for example, at the Galleria, if a witness gets a description of the suspect’s vehicle, we can have one unit heading to the scene while other units go to the areas of the freeways where the suspect is usually going to have to go,” Hahn observed. “We actually catch a lot of thieves that way.” 

Another strategy Roseville’s patrol officers and detectives use involves heading immediately into surrounding counties when information has been obtained about an out-of-town criminal.

“We’re frequently in Sacramento and other cities arresting people,” Hahn noted. “Our patrol officers put a big emphasis on following leads when we have them, even if they’re in Sacramento. If we’ve got a partial license plate or tip, our officers will contact the law enforcement in that jurisdiction and let them know we’re on our way. Basically, if you’re going to come into our city, we’re going to chase you to wherever you came from. One thing we know for sure is that habitual, serial burglars can’t victimize people while in custody.”  

That method proved succeful in capturing 32-year-old Edward Valila, who allegedly stole more than $4,500 in gasoline from a Shell station on Douglas Boulevard last September. Using a license plate number obtained by the station’s manager, Roseville detectives went directly to Valila’s home in Elk Grove and obtained evidence to arrest him for grand theft. 

Two weeks before, a similar strategy had been deployed when members of the Roseville police Vice and Narcotics Enforcement Team, or VNET, showed up at a home on Marconi Lane in Sacramento to arrest 45-year-old Michael Ramborger for allegedly selling large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin in their city. When investigators arrested him, Ramborger was allegedly in possession of meth, heroin and a loaded gun filed down to make it untraceable.

Hahn considers VNET a major weapon in pushing back against regional crime.

“I can’t think of one burglar we’ve arrested who hasn’t had a drug problem,” Hahn said. “And when you’re talking about drug dealers, you’re talking about drug trafficking from outside the city.”

Another team Hahn relies heavily on is the Roseville Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit, which handles monitoring gang members.

“For a few years that team has been really concentrating on gangs, and we saw a drop in violent crime because of it,” Hahn said. “Gangs, by their very nature, involve surrounding areas.”

From Lawrence’s perspective, a huge emphasis on teamwork among Rocklin police, Roseville police, Lincoln police and the Placer County Sheriff’s Department has so far been the best tactic for keeping outside offenders at bay.

“Placer law enforcement agencies contribute to countywide taskforces and combined teams, which work together to keep all of Placer County safe, not just our individual communities,” Lawrence said. “Without our community partners, as well as our partners in allied agencies, we would not be as successful at catching criminals as we have been.”