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Crime & Punishment in Our Town Tustin

crime-and-punishmentWith all the recent stories of Federal investigations and Grand Jury reports, it would seem our little corner of the state is a hotbed of criminal activity. And, judging from recent press releases and news stories, it looks like we aren’t far from it. Since neither the city council nor the planning commission will be meeting in the next few weeks, we thought we’d do our civic duty and inform you of some of the more mundane crime in Our Town Tustin.

Sex and the City

The Tustin Police Department sent out a press release asking for the public’s help in a series of Sexual Battery Incidents that have recently plagued the city. It seems a sexual predator has been combing our streets looking for unsuspecting womens’ tushes to ply his trade on.

From the press release:

In all six incidents, the suspect approached either a lone female or females in tandem from behind. The suspect either groped the victim’s buttocks or pulled the victim’s pants down, in concert with the groping.  In each case, the suspect immediately fled after the initial contact and in some cases, apologized as he ran away.

All six incidents have occurred mid-week in the morning or late evening hours.  Locations of the incidents have varied from apartment complexes to public sidewalks in the city.

The suspect has been described a[s] a male white or light skinned Hispanic, 18 – 20 years old, with a thin build.  The suspect may also have a tattoo of an unconfirmed nature on one of his arms.  In one incident, a vehicle was associated to the suspect and it is described only as an older “boxy” black sedan.

 The Megan’s Law database lists 32 sex offenders in the city of Tustin. Most of those are in compliance with the law regarding registration and required contact with the police department. Three of them have failed to register or re-register as required and several more show they may have moved or their whereabouts are unknown at this time. Kind of scary when you think about it.

As a career law enforcement officer who works with mentally ill sex offenders, I can tell you these folks are unpredictable at best. The best defense is to walk with others although, as has been seen in this situation, that is not always enough protection in itself. And, while this offender appears to be apologetic, don’t be fooled into thinking he won’t put up a vicious fight if he feels cornered. So, if your paths cross, don’t take matters into your own hands.

The best way to fight someone like this is to carry your cellphone at all  times when you are out and make sure it is charged. If accosted, yell and scream as loud as possible while running the other way. If you can keep your wits about you, try to get a good look at the suspect to give to Tustin PD investigators. The most important thing is your safety, however. Don’t take chances.

Taking Advantage In Other Ways

Fortunately, not much of our crime is as heinous as sexual predators. On the other end of the criminal spectrum, a Tustin construction contractor plead guilty to evading taxes and theft of a workers wages, in a case file by the California Department of Industrial Relations in January, 2012.

Reza Mohammedi, owner of Irvine based Southland Construction was sentenced to two years in state prison for his crimes. Mohammedi preyed on undocumented workers he hired to work on public construction projects in several Orange County Cities. Although he was cutting paychecks for workers, paying them up to $53 dollars an hour, he would then force the employees to return most of the money to him, allowing them to keep only $150 a day.

Mohammedi, who lives in Tustin but apparently doesn’t do business with the city, used threats of deportation and firings if the workers did not return the money to him. When the Labor Commission began its investigation, Mohammedi coached his workers on what to tell them. Apparently, his threats were not enough as several of his employees filed complaints.

The Orange County DA made an offer of 15 felony counts of tax evasion, 7 felony counts of taking and receiving a portion of a workers wage on public projects, 6 counts of recording false and forged instruments, and 3 felony counts of filing false tax returns. He also had a prior strike conviction for making Criminal Threats in 199.

And, for this, he received only 2 years in prison.

Hopefully, this will deter other business owners from making the same assumptions when it comes to hiring undocumented workers. In this state, their undocumented status is irrelevant (as it should be) when it comes to paying fair wages and keeping standard working conditions.

Well, I am sure there is plenty more crime out there. Thanks to our professional, accredited police department, we can still walk our streets in safety. Makes one wonder who Jeff Parker will tag for our new chief when Scott Jordan retires next month. I’m sure he has someone in mind that he can try out his 21st Century Hiring Process on.

Tustin Police Chief to Retire

click for biographyAs I mentioned earlier this week, the Tustin City Council essentially made public the fact that Chief Scott Jordan is leaving the city.

I am always a little leery when high ranking police official resign or say they are retiring. Usually, what happens is they wind up going to another department or to another police related career. Not wanting to remain in the dark, I sent the Chief an email asking about the council’s cryptic announcement. I was pleased more than surprised that he returned my email so quickly.

Chief Jordan explained that he had been considering retirement for some time. Recent family issues accelerated his plans and he now intends to leave the city’s employ on August 23, 2013 after 35 years of police service, the last 8 1/2 as Tustin’s Chief. “I was fortunate to have taken over a very professional agency with outstanding, talented, and committed staff.  I noticed immediately that everyone was committed to providing the best service possible to the Tustin community. It seemed as if there was a good fit between me, members of the Police Department, and the community.”

While Our Town Tustin has occasionally been critical of the Chief, we think he has been a great asset to the community. Through his leadership, the department has gained official accreditation. He refuses to taeke credit saying that he did not have to do anything as the men and women of the Department “did all the work and deserve all the recognition.”

Maybe.

We point out, however, that teamwork doesn’t go far without a good coach. And, Chief Jordan has been the best kind of coach. He has led a first class police department who quickly respond to critical incidents such as the Home Depot murder and the catastrophe that rocked our community earlier this year. All this was accomplished while keeping his typical low profile that has been a hallmark of his tenure.

Scott Jordan will retire after 35 years of dedicated service. He plans to give back to his wife and family as he says they have given to him during his career. He thanks his fellow officers at Tustin Police Department for the honor of leading them as they serve the community.

Good Luck and God Bless, Chief Scott Jordan. You will be missed.

Al Murray’s 2013 Goals Miss the Mark

Al Murray StockAs with every previous mayor in Tustin, Al Murray was no exception in presenting a set of goals that he has committed to during his tenure. Like his predecessors, he seems to forget, or not understand, the almost strictly ceremonial aspect of his office. Perhaps someone should remind him that it is the entire city council that set policy. In that respect, it might be better to collaborate with and present the city council’s goals rather than the mayor’s goals. In any case, Murray’s stated goals demonstrates how completely unambitious and unimaginative the good mayor may be. Unless he steps it up a bit, don’t look for anything interesting to happen under his tenure.

Murray’s first goal? To establish a Community Emergency Response Team. This would be a great idea if Murray hadn’t taken a page from Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s playbook. In the TPD’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, one of Chief Jordan goals is to establish a team of citizen responders for disasters and emergencies. Murray, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time slurping coffee with officers at the local Keane’s, is riding piggyback on the chief’s plan to have a team established by September. I wonder how the chief feels about a former Irvine PD captain stealing his ideas?

Murray’s next goal is to continue moving forward with the Tustin Legacy Project and Tustin Ranch Road. Of course, these projects are well underway and it is doubtful the good mayor or city council could have much effect on its progress. The fire station project, likewise, is well under way. We will give Murray credit for being on the city council over the past two years when crucial decisions were made. Still, not much more can be done at this point to move these projects any faster.

Transparency and the Entrance to City Hall. Raise your hand if you think this city council will be any more transparent than the last one. Everyone likes to talk about transparency but they all have their own ideas of exactly what transparency is. In fact, Murray appeared to mix transparency with new telephone systems and “access to the internet”, as if that makes city hall more transparent. Murray, who has declined to return any email I have ever sent to him, has a long way to go personally before attempting to tackle transparency at city hall, where the only way to obtain information is through a public records request… unless you happen to catch Jeff Parker or Elizabeth Binsack in a good mood that day.

The Shadow Knows. Murray’s next big project is an obvious attempt to make it appear that his administration will be more friendly toward the Tustin Unified School District. His idea is to have the school district select one student each quarter to shadow a government official for a day. Murray’s idea is to introduce students to government and its function. I would suggest that, unless they are looking to see how corruption runs and how government executives manage their fiefdoms, the students continue to learn about government as they do now – from textbooks and teachers. At least that way, they see government as it should work, not necessarily how it actually works at the local level. Perhaps, then, we can get the system back on track by making sure they learn from an unbiased, untainted source.

Collaboration with other government agencies and private businesses. Expect to see Murray and the Fab Five continue down the same path as the previous council. That is, to make Tustin more business oriented at the expense of resident’s quality of life. It remains to be seen just how much damage Murray can do with his limited business connections. He still has Nielsen to help him get the most from business contribution-wise. After the OC Watchdog outed Nielsen and Team Tustin for their gross contributions to campaign funds, it was also noted that Nielsen voted to extend the trash contract another year. I am sure John can introduce Al to a few of his business connections before the next election cycle.

So, what do we think should be the goals of this administration?

Certainly, we agree the city should do whatever it takes to end the lawsuits between TUSD and the city. That would take more than paying lip service to the school board and making empty threats to implement term limits. It would mean taking a serious look at the situation and settling the issues, including an offer to pay some attorney fees for the district. A stipulation that the city would no longer unduly interfere with school construction and affairs would go a long way toward mending fences. Yes, I’m saying go to the school board, hat in hand, and beg forgiveness.

A long term goal that could be started under this administration is to resurrect the idea of a park around the hangar Tustin is responsible for. With the Orange County Board of Supervisors ready to commit money and effort toward a regional park for their hangar, it could work to the benefit of the citizens in the Legacy area if Tustin joined forces with the county to preserve as much of that area for park an non-commercial use as possible. With the waning prospect of a “great park” in Irvine, a regional park that preserves the best example of Tustin’s military history would bring visitors from around the county and the country to enjoy these monuments to freedom. And, do we really want to say, “there used to be two hangars but…”.

Settle all aspects of the Tustin Legacy. Stop putting roadblocks up to development. Last year, the city retook control of the development of the MCAS property when they designated city officials as the master developer. Almost immediately, the city went to work locating property developers and making necessary changes to get building started. They made some difficult and, sometimes, unpopular  decisions. The important thing is, development has started once again. The completion of Tustin Ranch Road will throw things into high gear but will require a rethinking of regional transportation projects. (I know, this is a goal of Al’s… It’s the only one worth keeping, in our opinion).

The first city council meeting of the year was mercifully short at an hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully, that trend will continue. In the coming year, we don’t see a whole lot coming from this bunch. Gomez continues to play the nice guy and the other four are too dull to really bring any fireworks to the dais. Murray, a retired police officer from Irvine, shows that he has way too much time on his hands. Nielsen is too busy with personal issues and the podiatrist councilman reminds me of Ted Kennedy during the camelot era. Wake me up if I fall asleep.

Better Late Than Never

click for biographyThe norm is, I don’t usually make it to the Tustin City Council meetings on a regular basis. Fortunately, the city is kind enough to videotape and publish the meetings on the city website. I can watch them when it is convenient and I don’t even have to dress up for the occasion. The best part is, the city links the agenda to the video so one only has to watch what they want. In recent weeks, there hasn’t been much to watch other than the changing of the guard and some minor issues we have reported on. I wasn’t even going to watch the latest meeting except something told me it would be entertaining. It was, if you think watching a podiatrist read his notes verbatim is entertaining.

Nonetheless, when Mayor Al Murray congratulated Chief of Police, Scott Jordan, for his election to the Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Association, I thought I would email the chief with a congratulatory message. As you know, Our Town Tustin likes the chief and think he does an outstanding job leading a professional department that we can all be proud of. So, I was surprised to find out Jordan was actually elected on May 1, 2012, and is in midterm.

From his email:

I became President of the Orange County Chiefs’ of Police and Sheriff’s Association on May 1, 2012, and my term runs through April 30, 2013.  So far, it has been a challenging year.  As you know, we are experiencing the perfect storm – fewer personnel, due to both the recession and the elimination of redevelopment agencies, and increasing crime and calls for service.  This perfect storm is certainly complicated by AB 109, prisoner realignment.  Now, with the recent passage of Prop 36, we can anticipate the release of even more career criminals.  I am sure the release of prisoners / repeat offenders into our society has at least some impact on the increasing crime, even though I can’t specifically say how much.

Under the Chief’s leadership, the Association has amended their protocol for handling the mentally ill and continue to support police officer training on handling the mentally ill. “In fact, Tustin is sponsoring training for police officers on handling the mentally ill in the first part of 2013″, said Jordan. He went on to say his department supports the Orange County Fire Authority active shooter protocol that defines first responder roles and responsibilities. That’s good news in the wake of Sandy Hook and other recent tragedies.

None of this is surprising, of course. Several months ago, I was meeting with the IT guru from Tustin Unified School District over Measure S. We met at Peet’s Coffee on Newport, as I like to support our local businesses. During the meeting, I noticed a homeless man sitting nearby. He was in a bit of distress and, although he was exhibiting signs of mental illness, he was not really bothering anyone.

Apparently, someone from the store called the cops to complain. When the officer arrived, I observed him approach and speak quietly to the man. The officer, whom I later found out was Officer Manny Arzate, later came up to my table and told me they received a call saying the man had exposed himself to patrons. I told him I had been there for awhile and had seen nothing of the sort. He thanked me and, with another officer who arrived on the scene, spoke again with the man in a quiet, respectful manner that we would all expect when members of the police department are speaking to us. They encouraged him to leave and then left the area. It was obvious they were trained in dealing with the mentally ill from how they handled the situation.

None of this should surprise you. It’s good to know, however, that our department is highly trained and that they care about our community.

It is also good to know that our own chief of police is leading the way in Orange County Law Enforcement as they deal with new and challenging issues this coming year. AB109, the law that realigned prison programs to allow the release of dangerous criminals, will now, according to Jordan, be compounded by Prop 36, which has changed the aspect of the Three Strikes Law significantly. We do not necessarily share Jordan’s dire prediction on Prop 36 but we appreciate his concern and the fact he takes his job seriously.

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