STOCKTON -- Their presence here didn't go entirely unnoticed, and neither did their impact.
For the past four months, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones has been asked what factors were contributing to the city's dramatic decline in violent crime. What Jones couldn't say was that, for the past four months, some of the ATF's most experienced undercover operatives were helping police carry out one of the biggest series of raids the city has ever seen.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will hold a news conference Tuesday announcing the results of Operation Gideon IV. Since 2009, the ATF has led similar Gideon missions in Phoenix, San Diego and Oakland.
Jones said this operation was a joint effort between the ATF and the Stockton Police Department -- with help from the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol -- to target some of the city's most violent gangs. Some of those arrested were linked to residential robberies, drug sales, gun sales, shootings and homicides, Jones said.
"These subjects were responsible for high amounts of violent crime," Jones said. "We have no doubt that, based on the arrests and confiscations that have occurred, we have prevented some significant violent crimes in Stockton over the past few months."
The operation was so confidential that few members of participating law enforcement agencies knew it was taking place. Even some of the officers and SWAT team members who participated in raids didn't know they were part of a larger ATF operation, Jones said.
Still, the mission didn't go completely undetected. A number of people near Morelli Park got a glimpse of Operation Gideon when dozens of federal agents and local law enforcement officers amassed on the south banks of the Stockton Deep Water Channel to stage for a February bust. They drove mostly unmarked cars, including pickups, sport utility vehicles and two U-Haul trucks. One man said they "look like an army."
Authorities conducted more than 20 raids resulting in dozens of arrests, gun confiscations and drug seizures, Jones said. The ATF is expected to release exact figures Tuesday, authorities said.
"I've never seen anything on this scale with the ATF or another federal agency," Jones said. "We've had some huge enforcement sweeps here in Stockton, but they were one or two days. In this case, we had a combination of a long-term operation involving this many law enforcement resources. It's the largest I've ever seen in Stockton."
Read Tuesday's Record for more on this story by staff writer Jason Anderson. ___