First, there was Operation Knockout. Followed by Operations Tapout, Street Sweeper and Garlic Press.
Beginning with Knockout, the 2010 Monterey County case that launched a statewide assault on one of California's most prominent gangs, the intelligence gathered in that eight-month investigation by state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement agents spawned a half-dozen takedowns of gang regiments around the state.
The bureau was known for its ability to handle complex, long-running wiretap and surveillance operations, run from some of its 55 local task forces around the states. But after drastic state budget cuts, BNE was shut down last December.
Now Monterey Peninsula law enforcement agencies are hoping to craft a similar team after dreams of a BNE-led regional task force in Monterey County vanished along with the 84-year-old agency.
Known as the Peninsula Regional Violence and Narcotics Teams, the PRVNT task force will be based in Monterey but includes officers and liaisons from 10 local agencies.
An ad-hoc version has already been active, and last month responded to a surge in gang violence in Seaside. In eight days, the ad hoc task force served three search warrants, arrested 11 suspects and seized eight firearms including an SKS assault rifle, officials said.
"I was very impressed with how they came together," Monterey Police Chief Phil Penko said.
The idea for the Peninsula's task force began around three years ago, when local law enforcement agencies planned to set up a BNE-led team with one hub in Salinas' Law Enforcement Operations Center and another on the Peninsula.
"Once BNE dissolved, both groups decided to venture out on our own," Penko said."BNE laid a very solid foundation on how task forces should be run."
One of the state bureau's strong points was its agents' ability to finesse long-term, high-tech investigations that local agencies often don't have the budget or training for.
But Penko said the new task force is getting help from the federal government on that front.
Monterey is one of 10 counties that fall within the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a program overseen by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The program has already provided computers on loan to the task force, and can be called on when more complex investigations are under way, Penko said, "even if they're not going to be boots on the ground."
Former BNE Special Agent Bob Cooke is now director of training for the regional HIDTA, and he said the program is ready to provide analysts and other technical assistance, including help with the kind of elaborate paperwork needed for federal wiretap warrants.
"We're helping them get started and with training," Cooke said. "We'll also be there if they need help with more complicated investigations."
Penko said where there are gang and narcotics trafficking operations, the task force plans to "to follow the chain of command, follow the purse strings."
Although the Peninsula is not known as a hotbed of organized crime, Seaside police Cmdr. Bruno Diaz recently described an investigation of burglaries in that city that uncovered a crime ring connected to a business in Pacific Grove. The precious metal buyer bought gold jewelry "no questions asked," Diaz said, and had it quickly melted down.
Penko said PRVNT will operate "out of an existing city facility" and to date has spent $8,673 from asset seizure funds to buy and install eight work stations, in addition to $8,096 covered by the city of Monterey for the purchase and installation of eight telephone systems.
In a memo to the Monterey City Council, Penko said once the task force is up and running, such expenses will be reimbursed and shared among participating agencies.
He said Monterey police will contribute two full-time officers to the task force — a detective sergeant and a narcotics detective.
In addition, he said, the task force will be composed of one full-time officer from the California Highway Patrol; one full-time officer each from Marina and Pacific Grove police; a full-time commander and two detectives from Seaside police; and one part-time officer each from police departments in Carmel, Sand City and CSU Monterey Bay.
Monterey approved a memorandum of understanding with the other agencies at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Seaside has already approved its memo, and Penko said Marina's should come before that City Council Nov. 27.
Also taking part is the Monterey County District Attorney's Office, and Penko said other partners may join in the future.
"I envision this group would be working with the FBI, ATF, even the IRS," he said. "These cases will run the gamut from street operations to long-term (investigations). I think anything's game."
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.