Press Room


Citizens Community Watch


Divider Tape

July 23, 1997
Section: METRO
Page: B3
By    Vanessa Hua Bee Staff Writer

--Neighborhood watch groups have long been the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement, alert to suspicious activity. But in midtown, Community Watch is acting as the "hands and feet" as well - patrolling and arresting more than a dozen suspects during the past year, including a man charged with nearly 50 graffiti taggings.

All Sacramentans should work with police to keep streets safe, director Dave Jenest said. "We have a responsibility to fight criminal activity. . . . It goes back to the Constitution."

Patrolling midtown on foot, on bicycles and with canines, the 20-member group has assisted in more than 50 cases from auto burglary to petty theft - sometimes videotaping suspects for later prosecution.

"The group has amazing dedication," said Helen Austin of Sierra Research, which has seen a dramatic drop in vandalism. "I don't know how they do it."

Law enforcement officials are ambivalent about the patrols, praising the results but decrying the dangers.

"Bad guys will do anything to get away," sheriff's Sgt. Jim Cooper said, noting sworn officers are better equipped and extensively trained to confront criminals.

At times, tensions have flared between volunteers and police. In January, Jenest was arrested for "sightseeing at a crime scene." Charges later were dropped.

Since then, Community Watch has worked to improve communication with police, said Jenest, 52. The group also has obtained letters authorizing it to act on behalf of various businesses.

Most weeknights, up to four members patrol midtown streets with laptops and phones. Their priority is to alert police to a breaking crime - but they'll make citizens arrests, if necessary.

Sometimes it's impossible to avoid violent situations: Members have been attacked with baseball bats, spray cans and 18-inch-long steel rods, Jenest said.

Videotapes instruct volunteers on issues ranging from witness interviewing to pepper spray use, but the bulk of Community Watch training occurs in the field - on foot patrols.

Civilian patrols are perfectly legal - any citizen can make an arrest, though a misdemeanor arrest requires witnessing the crime committed while a felony does not, officials said.

Community Watch's goal is to surprise suspects.

"Vandals continue spraying until we get up right behind them. And then they'll cuss us out for our audacity to stop them," said member Brett Cagle, 35, who walks the streets with Ben Ali, his 110-pound Rottweiler.

One recent coup was the capture of Leon Willis, 23, charged with almost 50 counts of vandalism totaling nearly $100,000 in damage.

The group is housed in the Neighborhood Crime and Nuisance Abatement Center, part of an apartment complex on the 1800 block of H Street that is managed by Jenest.

The center is an eclectic mix of computers, battered two-way radios, mismatched couches and squawking police dispatch equipment. Artie Bobo, a rescued iguana, crawls from potted plant to kitchen ledge.

Among its services, Community Watch files on-line crime reports, provides updates on prosecutions and maintains a database of graffiti offenders. Its 24-hour hotline is 448-4169.

The genesis of Community Watch came in fall 1995, when Jenest and others - including apartment managers Carol and Mike McAmis - successfully campaigned against drug dealing on H Street.

Jenest, a technology consultant, later began overseeing an H Street apartment in spring 1996. He established the crime-fighting center there and soon launched neighborhood patrols.

Lack of public funding hampers Community Watch, Jenest said, adding it depends on business donations and electronic equipment supplied by him.

Members hope the group can attain non-profit status, raise $20,000 in seed money, then parlay that into several million dollars in grants to create a regional community policing center.

Community Watch is "atypical," said Patrol Captain Mike Busch, who oversees police in the midtown area. "Most people don't want to stick out their necks."

Police Sgt. Tom Cooper praised the volunteers' consistent patrols and high-tech equipment. "They're a model for other neighborhood organizations," he said.


For Immediate Release

Sacramento Police Department declared it a Mass Casualty Incident
while vigilant Community Watchers call it irresponsible City Policy!

Sacramento, California - July 28, 2001 2:30 a.m.

Armed with wireless night vision cameras, camcorders, two-way radios and police scanners, Citizen's Community Watch logged in (Call # 775) with the Sacramento Police Department's dispatchers just before midnight Friday for the fourth weekend-long duty in a row. The watchdog group's mission? Document the high speed, reckless driving habits of Midtown and Old Sacramento nightclub patron's as they exit the city through otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

Up until two a.m., this morning's "gameplan" had been uneventful. Well, there was the 911 call when a car was spotted by one alert watch member cruising slowly around the block several times. The person in the passenger seat closely matched the description of a neighbor's son, who a day earlier had threatened to kill his mother and everyone in sight before killing himself. (SPD Report Number 01-59973) Watch members, armed only with a fresh restraining order, called police. Extra watch members arrived to keep vigil on the gated community in case police couldn't come due to normal weekend staffing shortages.

Within seconds of the call to police, scanners barked "This is a mass casualty incident, make all the call-outs." There had been at least two major traffic collisions somewhere between 19th and T and 19th and X Streets. The first appeared to be a hit an run by two of the four involved cars. The second, which included a police vehicle, possibly two, has possible suspect running away on foot: or so it sounded in all the confusion. A police helicopter was circling to the south and sirens punctuated the occasional sound of errant drivers doing doughnuts at intersections a few blocks away or street racing on their way to freeway on ramps. The radio went "we needs at least five ambulances, maybe more", a female officer was involved and being transported to the hospital along with at least four others. Again the term. Mass Casualty Incident was declared, a spot for the media selected and Captain's being called at home.

Back at the Community Watch office, tensions eased when it was discovered the occupant of the circling car was a family member of the victim (explains the close resemblance) who wanted to make sure it was safe before stopping. Police were called to cancel the pending call. Similar calls were pending throughout the city, some as much as an hour and a half old. "Not enough officers on the street at any hour, let alone when any critical incident happens" notes Dave Jenest, director of Citizen's Community Watch.

But this particular morning, the group thinks there are at least three smoking guns that could be responsible for the accident, slow response times on high priority calls and what they describe as a Dodge City traffic mentality of the wild wild west. What they didn't count on as notes were being taken, was the police department's radio and mobile data terminal system collapsing in the heat of battle, forcing a shift to a backup Sheriff's system. The watch group made the shift more quickly than the dozen or so police units who were in the dark. Normal radio operations were restored about two hours later.

In ticking off the list of smoking guns, Jenest cites the gutting of patrol and traffic enforcement as sending a message to would be cowboys, driving down the streets with boom box high power stereos and sometime semi-auto blazing. "Were the is no enforcement, this is no law". Secondly, he cites Police Chief, Arturo Venegas who makes public statements that crime has dropped to levels we haven't seen since the 50's". "He makes these outlandish claims while ignoring the fact that Sacramento leads the state in traffic deaths and serious injury accidents for cities with populations over 250,000. The third smoking gun is the city council turning a blind eye to errant nightclub owners who serve minors, let patrons drink beyond reasonable limits and them dump them on our streets. The groups had been raising the issue with City Council since June 20th last year. The only action the council is considering is banning dancing after 1:30 a.m. city wide. "Dancing isn't killing club patrons with a semi-auto (The Lyon's shooting), or putting officers in the hospital (this morning's crash) or out of control cars assaulting police officers in parking structures and civilians on the street as they spin wheels and create smoke so thick you can't see the tail lights, let alone license plates.

It's high time club owners pay the cost of extraordinary police services while we go without them in the community. The chief said they would have to pay, and then it fell through the cracks, right along with $60 million in federal COPS hiring grants while we have fewer officers in patrol and traffic than before.


Sacramento Community Watch
1818 H Street #1 , Sacramento,   CA 95814

Contact: Dave Jenest
Phone: 444-0935
FAX/Voice Mail:  1-877-741-7354 (Toll Free)

Hip-Hop Havoc - SPD Case Number 01-46048 - Sacramento's finest do their finest: taking four bad guys and their guns off the street!

Midtown Sacramento, California - June 11, 2001  

Drive-by gunfire erupts outside yet another Hip-Hop venue in Midtown Sacramento shortly after 2:00 a.m. Reluctant gunshot victims hippity-hop to get-away cars to avoid contact with police.

Gun totting suspects bail from a van as they try to leave the scene with off duty police in hot pursuit.  Overwhelmed uniformed police resources try to set up perimeter positions, calling in manpower from the South and East areas of the city.  Fortunately, California Highway Patrol officers detain several potential suspects as communications between SPD and CHP adds to the confusion. SPD officers are unable to respond to assist CHP. Are these involved parties (suspects) or were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Who knows ... cops don't!

In a midtown watch office, log sheets come out, tape recorders capture the events as they unfold. More documentation and evidence for a hopeful review by state or federal justice departments into allegations that the city turns a blind eye favoring entertainment and promoters over public safety. Why? Fear of the race card being played or officers accused of targeting bay area rap promoters and their followers? The evidence has been mounting since last summer. That's when civil unrest at Cal Expo brought near riot conditions to midtown at 17th and K Streets. City government has been non-responsive to local resident's questions about cost recovery and accountability. They duck questions about the breakdown of law enforcement citywide during such events. 

Now back to this morning's event...

Just up the street from the CHP, the Fire Department is being flagged down by shooting victims only to have them attempt to flee when police are summoned. Some minutes later, SPD officers speculate the suspects detained by CHP could be passengers in the van from which the shootings took place. The call goes out for someone to make gun-shot-residue (GSR) tests on these suspects. No answer comes. Frustrated officers call for help to secure the crime scene, none is available. A civilian CSO is summoned from the south area to tape off the scene.

Sacramento Police had been tipped off to potential problems the night before as reports of an after-hour Post Rap party was being promoted at the popular Brannan's nightclub at.  The club, plagued by civil disturbances in recent weeks, apparently wanted no part of another potential problem. Prior to midnight, the club was turning rap promoters and their entourages away at the door.  Management had been cooperative with police last night, a welcome sign to midtown watchdogs at Sacramento Citizen's Community Watch (SCCW) who monitor and record police scanner traffic during such events.

Word soon spread among SPD's field supervisors and off duty officers working security at the 19th & S Street midtown venue, that promoters and underage youth were beginning to gather, apparently not deterred by no welcome mat at Brannan's. "Police were right on top of this situation and it looked like it would pass without incident" said Dave Jenest of SCCW.  "While we may not have enough of them, particularly on a Sunday night, Monday morning, our cops were undaunted and are very savvy to the club scene that's been draining police resources from our neighborhoods most weekends.  None-the-less, when these incidents occur, the rest of the City's residents suffer from delayed response times, no response at all or no officers proactively patrolling in problem neighborhoods for several hours" Jenest noted. "Thinking all was well for grave yard, I shut down the watch office until an off duty SPD officer began calling for Code-3 cover after reports of gunfire and hot pursuit of armed suspects." 

For police officers, this is their worst nightmare. Several heavily armed suspects, are at large and on foot, having already shot several victims. Local residents are also at grave risk of a home invasion, potentially held hostage in a police stand-off. Cops want these bad guys in custody before that option plays out in the minds of armed suspects.

3:18 a.m., an hour plus into the incident, police have tracked down two more suspects in the 1700 block of Q Street. Moments later a weapon is recovered on R Street between 17th & 18th. Shell casings at the shooting scene are from a .40cal weapon, believed to be a semi-auto. Initial reports on the newly found weapon is that it's a .45cal. Minutes later, another hand gun, a .40cal Glock is found. Two bad guys, two guns off the street, one possible armed suspect still outstanding. Do they have their shooter? Only time, a confession or those GSR tests may tell.

3:38 a.m. The Patrol Sergeant is still calling for GSR tests on the five suspects now detained by CHP and SPD officers.  A named suspect has emerged as the possible driver/shooter; male black adult, 24 years of age, 6', 175 lbs, slender build with hair in braids. But if he was the shooter, the four detained suspects don't fit the description. We'll just have to wait.  Community Watch goes on-line for e-mail messages, posts an update on several national police forums it contributes to.  The Yahoo Police/Fire forum finds a few east coast regulars either unwinding from a night's work or heading out for a new day's shift.  Even veteran cops find the replayed audio files via the net disturbing. "Sobering" say one cop from Baltimore, Md.

4:28 a.m. the SPD Communication Center reads our minds and asks the question, "Are there still suspects outstanding or do you have them all."  "Unknown", comes the reply from an officer in the field, "we don't know how many bailed from the van." Could there still be an armed and dangerous shooter on foot in midtown?  For our street cops, that question could be a life and death one. For watchdog, sleep calls because 7:00 a.m. is three hits on the snooze button.


Sacramento Community Watch
1818 H Street #1 , Sacramento,   CA 95814

Contact: Dave Jenest
Phone: 444-0935
FAX/Voice Mail:  1-877-741-7354 (Toll Free)

Community Activist to file Equal Protection Complaint
with Federal and State Department of Justices

Sacramento, California, June 21, 2001 (One year Anniversary - First Council Challenge)

Citing "class" discrimination in the non-enforcement of public laws and preferential treatment towards "Hip-Hop" entertainment venues and their promoters, Sacramento based Citizen's Community Watch announced today that it will seek federal and state intervention to force the issue with city government.

The group's director, Dave Jenest said the city has obstructed justice, covered up assaults on police officers and turned a blind eye to civil disturbances and felony crimes against police officers and the general public for nearly a year.

"Requests for a public hearing have been denied over and over", says Dave Jenest. "The City Manager, Police Chief and elected representative used the cloak of Executive Session to hide the facts from the Sacramento public they are supposed to represent. The public has the unequivocal right to know when they are being denied police protection for hours at a time because police are forced to mobilize every available officer to deal with riotous behavior of a select group of party goers who can't obey the law. Selective enforcement (or non-enforcement in this case) is discriminatory and bars equal protection for the majority of Sacramento residents", concludes Jenest.

Note: Fox 40 News covered this issue - that news video tape is available along with file video of police chief Arturo Venegas testifying before City Council September 9, 2000 promising a solution and accountability. File video of the Mayor and Councilman Cohn saying the city would pursue cost recovery from bar owners is also available.

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