Detective Chris Maher, left, and Deputy Anthony Panonessa arrest Robert Craft of Sacramento, who allegedly sold marijuana to an undercover member of the Narcotics Suppression Unit.
Photo by Autumn Cruzfirstname.lastname@example.org
From Stan Oklobdzija:
The vests that Sgt. Scott Hays and his eight-man team wear can stop a bullet but not the budget ax.
Since the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's budget was slashed by $5 million this fiscal year, Hays' team has existed in financial limbo.
The Narcotics Suppression Unit, which conducts operations against street-level drug dealers, was officially disbanded in June, Hays said. He had led the team since it formed in 2007.
"On paper, we're gone," he said.
But thanks to some sympathetic members of the department's command staff, Hays and his team have been able to keep at it.
Sheriff John McGinness and Bill Kelly, the deputy chief of Field Services, saw the benefit of the team and engaged in some creative accounting.
"(Kelly) ID'd some vacant positions in the patrol division and plugged the narcotics street unit into them," said Sgt. Tim Curran, the sheriff's spokesman.
So for now, the team gets to keep going. But as is true for all deputies during these troubled budget times, the uncertainty wears on them, Hays said.
"It's difficult for us to work when we're wondering (what's going to happen next)," Hays said. "Until another hiccup comes, we just get to do our jobs."
A 16-year veteran of the department, Hays said he and the other members of the street unit have not only one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement, but one that's most beneficial to the community.
To combat street-level drug sales, Hays' team does periodic sweeps through neighborhoods, works with informants and uses undercover officers to arrest dealers.
The drug trade, he said, has its fingers in everything.
"It's all a big spider web," Hays said. "That's the whole thing about the drug trade, it spirals to all areas of crime."
The arrests that Hays and his detectives make lead to major narcotics busts and arrests in other crimes, he said.
On a recent 10-day sweep through the county conducting undercover drug buys and checking on warrants, the team netted 221 arrests, Hays said.
During that sweep, an undercover drug buy near Lawrence Park in south Sacramento led to a crack house just down the street. Two children, ages 9 and 13, were taken from the house by county Child Protective Services, and their mother was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment.
"That 13-year-old hadn't been in school for a year," Hays said as a patrol car whisked the mother away. "If it wasn't for the drug buy, we wouldn't have been able to track that neglect."
Last year, Hays said, his team made about 1,300 arrests and seized about $150,000 in drug money. Even so, he realizes that in his lifetime, he'll never see the end of the drug trade.
"I'm not naive enough to say we can stop drugs (from being sold)," he said. "But we have to let dealers know that they can't just sell drugs with abandon."
It's why the shake-ups in the department worry him despite his best efforts, he said.
"I can't be (worried)," he said. "We've got to stay focused. But in these financial times, it's hard. ... When you have a budget crisis, even good programs get cut."
Click here to see a slide show of phtos of this unit in action.