Sheriff: trial meth operation slows East County crime - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Sheriff: trial meth operation slows East County crime

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SANTEE (CNS) - A six-month trial operation to combat methamphetamine abuse has played a significant role in lowering crime in the East County area, Sheriff Bill Gore said today.

In "Operation Tip the Scale," law enforcement officials targeted riders on the San Diego Trolley system once or twice per month and either made arrests or issued referrals for treatment.

People who were detained were taken to a holding area where they met with treatment counselors.

"The message was clear -- get off meth, stay off meth, get help or go to jail," Gore said at a news conference at Santee Trolley Square mall.

Gore said property crime in eastern San Diego County was down 24 percent in the first six months of 2009 as compared with the comparable period in 2008, and violent crime was down 4.1 percent. That meant there were 1,474 fewer crime victims than last year, he said.

The crackdown on methamphetamine abuse deserves part of the credit, he said.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said her East County district used to be known as the "meth capital" of the county, even the country.

"No longer is that dubious distinction true," Jacob said.

A "carrot-and-stick approach" partnered law enforcement with treatment programs, both of which were frustrated by the problem, Jacob said.

Police kept arresting the same people over and over, and treatment programs had trouble attracting patients, she said.

Jose Vasquez, a counselor with Mental Health Systems Inc., said relapses are common with methamphetamine addicts.

"Anyone struggling with meth needs a push in the right direction," and those who get such help usually wind up grateful for the "nudge," Vasquez said.

According to statistics provided by the county Methamphetamine Strike Force, nearly 17,000 people were contacted during the six months of the operation, and 209 were arrested.

In two days in March, 78 people were arrested in Santee, and in September, 84 people taken into custody in Lemon Grove.

Gore said the Sheriff's Department plans to implement the program in other areas of the county. Potential locations for the expansion effort are being evaluated, he said.

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