To help Napa police dig deeper into some of the problems that plague city residents, the Napa Police Special Enforcement Unit is made up of four officers and Sgt. Pat Manzer.
The unit is not assigned to any specific patrol or beat: “We work with everything from neighborhood, code enforcement and gang problems,” Manzer said.
The unit also conducts probation searches.
“We work a case from the beginning to the end,” Manzer said. “We want to solve problems before they escalate into a criminal matter. We have the time to do that.”
Manzer said unit officers are in tune with the police radio at all times.
“The guys know the names of many of the players in the criminal system. If they hear a call and sense it could be something they know about, they are on top of it within seconds,” he said.
“We supplement the patrol units.”
The special enforcement unit also includes the two officers assigned to the gang unit.
“Keeping gang activity at a limit is a top priority,” Manzer said. “The (gang unit) officers can keep a better eye on gang activity. The know the names of people who are involved in gang activity, their associates and where they hang out.”
Manzer said although gang activity usually only makes the news when something violent happens, the officers are constantly vigilant in keeping gangs under control.
“We can put our resources on the problem full time. This is our only job,” he said. “We want to get on the problem before there is another fatal gang shooting or stabbing. We have come a long way since the big flareup of gang violence more than a decade ago.”
The special unit also works with other city agencies such as code enforcement and fire inspection.
“If there is a public safety issue we check into it and decide who can best handle the problem,” Manzer said.
Once the unit takes on a case, they work it through, “all the way from the arrest to court to probation. We are not assigned to strictly patrol or investigations. We sit in the middle.”
Another goal of the Special Enforcement Unit is problem-solving.
“You can make arrests all day, but that doesn’t solve the problem,” Manzer said.
“For example, we have a big problem with the homeless in Fuller Park. We get a lot of complaints from neighbors, citizens (using the park) about goings on at the park,” Manzer said.
“We developed a solution to address those problems. We have plain-clothes officers patrol the area. We do probation searches,” he said. “You can arrest people all day, but that is not going to solve any problems.”
Manzer said the unit also gets landlords involved with ongoing problems at certain apartment complexes or other rental units.
“By working with residents experiencing annoying problems, it lets them see we are not just police officers who show up and arrest people,” he said. “We want to work with them and their problems to improve everyone’s quality of life.”
Napa Police Capt. Steve Potter said the special enforcement unit’s goals are to address gang activity issues and public policing.
“We don’t want neighborhood problems to reach a threshold to where violence erupts,” Potter said. “We want to deal with those problems in its infancy before it becomes a criminal matter,” Potter said.
Potter said police have responded to over 250 calls for service within a year at one apartment complex in west Napa.
He said the complaints range from noise, drug activity, fighting to domestic violence.
“These calls are a tremendous drain on law enforcement and a huge expense for the taxpayers,” Potter said. “It is very expensive to continuously send public safety resources to these types of calls.”
Potter said the special enforcement has the time and resources to nip problems such as these in the bud.
“The special unit officers are on top of these types of complaints and can usually resolve them before it gets to the criminal level. It also frees up patrol officers to respond to more serious calls.”
Potter has high praise for the anti-gang officers assigned to the special enforcement unit.
“They are very quick to jump on any gang activity issue,” he said. “Sometimes their work can be a victim of its own success. A lot of people think just because they don’t hear much about gang violence, it doesn’t exist. That’s not the case. Gang activity is ongoing. However the unit is doing a great job keeping it under check.”
Funding for the special unit comes from the city’s general fund and grants.