More college degrees, more women, in uniform

Police work has for years been perceived as a testosterone-dominated, blue-collar job. No doubt, a tough, physical career where skill with a gun and baton might come in more handy than a college diploma – a profession where women make just 12 percent of the workforce.

But times are changing.

Police departments appear to be making an active effort to recruit more women in their ranks, slowly increasing the number of women on patrol. Changes in the workforce, such as the lack of jobs for new graduates, has also driven more college graduates to the police academy, and departments are more than happy to bring them aboard.

Those are two big changes taking place in the ranks of police departments in Orange County, which have gone through years of hiring freezes and layoffs in the last couple of years. But as they start to slowly replenish their workforce, they are slowly changing the face of their department. Continue reading “More college degrees, more women, in uniform”

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Battle for O.C.’s Mexican Mafia

The Orange County Register, Aug. 7, 2011
The Orange County Register, Aug. 7, 2011

There aren’t many rules for members of the Mexican Mafia and, for every rule that does exist, you can find an example of it being broken.

Started out at Duel Vocational Institution in Northern California in the mid 1950s, the prison gang started out as a system to protect heavily outnumbered Latino inmates in state prisons. Yet the organization grew fast, fastening a grip over prisons throughout the California system and eventually, out into the streets.

The system of power is simple: by controlling life behind bars, “La Eme” could exert fear and influence over Latino gangs. After choosing a life in a gang, it is a question of when members will be arrested, not when. If gangsters wanted to stay protected behind bars, they would abide by the rules and interest of the members of the Mexican Mafia, the carnales.

But in its more than 60-year history, the Mexican Mafia has gone through multiple transformations – none more apparent than in the battle of power that took place in Orange County. Continue reading “Battle for O.C.’s Mexican Mafia”

A family who’s waited years for justice

Juan Ramon Perez was killed in March 2002 after he lent a man his tools and asked to get them back. Since the shooting, his sister has not stopped calling investigators who are searching for the killer.

This was an effortless story, the type you merely stand back and let itself be told.

It’s the reason why I enjoy writing about crime: when you go just beneath the surface you can see a more complicated texture to life. There are hundreds of stories like this, but it is an excellent example of the hunger for justice in people, and their tenacity to maintain their loyalty to those they love, even after they pass.

What intrigued me was Patricia Perez. Here was a woman who for eight years (at the time the story was printed) had not missed a chance to call the detective who has been searching for her brother’s killer. For years she has received no answer, yet no one would question her judgement or love if she had grown disillusioned about hearing no news eight years after her brother – Juan Ramon Perez – was killed, and stopped calling.
Continue reading “A family who’s waited years for justice”

The business of policing

Policing may not be a business, but handling its finances is serious stuff. Like a business, law enforcement agencies may be contracted by cities to provide services. But if the policing agency loses these contracts it could throw its finances in a spin, affecting not just the services they provide other cities but the very jurisdiction they were created to protect.

So when a city decides to end its contract, or it begins to look toward another agency for services, its serious business. Less contracts could mean less cops on the street, fewer resources for detectives or even longer waits for emergencies. Continue reading “The business of policing”

Drug use in Orange County

I wrote this story back in 2010 after I bumped into it during a conversation with a narcotics investigator. It came back to mind today when a teacher at a local school contacted me after running into the article online.

It may be there are more incidents now, or perhaps she’s noticing them more now, but several students have been found with small rocks of heroin – a drug you don’t usually associate with the often overlooked drug use of a troubled teenager. After speaking with the kids, school officials and police are finding out teenagers are graduating to heroin after experimenting with prescription drugs – which are easier to get a hold of in middle- to upper-middle class South Orange County. Continue reading “Drug use in Orange County”

Grab the big picture, break it into pieces

As journalists, we’re often trying to provide readers with the big picture, but the small pieces of the mosaic can sometimes be just as important.

It goes something like, “Here is an example of this issue, now let me explain to you how it fits into the greater scheme of things.”

But the big picture can at times be blinding. So, when there are drastic changes approaching in the California prison system, how can we as journalists explain to readers the true impact these changes will carry?

It’s in the details, of course.

What my colleague, Sean Emery, and I wanted to do was break down on a smaller, detailed level what the realignment process meant to each and every resident – in their pocket and their neighborhood. Most people don’t come into contact with the prison or justice system, and the idea of “realigning” the responsibility from the state department of corrections to county agencies seems distant. After all, what does it matter where the criminals are, as long as it’s not near me?

In visiting the issue, we broke the topic down into three pieces to explain it effectively to readers: what will this mean in your county courthouse, in your county jail, and to probation offices. Intermingled with these topics are other essential questions that must be answered including, who will pay for the changes, who is in charge of these major changes, and what impact will it have to culture in our streets and our jails?

Our three part series included:

Part 1: State to begin sending inmates to O.C.

Part 2: State inmates could fill, change O.C. jails

Part 3: O.C. probation officials prepare for released prisoners

We also built an interactive timeline to better explain how the process, and plan, came to fruition.

Large portion of the prison system is rehabilitation, and whether career criminals are behind bars or on parolee can bring drastic changes to our neighborhoods – even for those who will never see the inside of a jail cell.

Realignment will bring drastic changes to the way the state’s prison system is run. The big picture is this: what state officials have done for years is now the responsibility of county agencies, including housing, monitoring and rehabilitation.

To truly understand the impact of these changes, I believe, you must understand how things will be done differently, the amount of money that will go into these changes and what it will mean on a day to day basis. Otherwise, the true meaning of the big picture can be lost.

Court docs, and the story

Court rooms are not the dramatic scenes of T.V. dramas, and I think I’d rather crack open the owner’s manual of my DVD player before sitting down and reading a court file.

The way depositions are depicted on court shows is also entertaining: so full of tension, drama, witty exchange and fervent accusations. In fact, they’re achingly technical, meticulous, and sluggishly deliberate. Extracting a human story from these documents is not easy – especially on deadline.

But the court system is nevertheless an amazing window into the character of individuals and our society, and the details of those stories are Continue reading “Court docs, and the story”