CERES — Top officials from four county law enforcement agencies representing jurisdictions along Crows Landing Road met with upward of 50 community members Wednesday evening to discuss public safety concerns along the road. Complaints at the Latino Community Roundtable forum ranged from drug dealing out of taco trucks to sales of fraudulent ID cards to aggressive panhandlers.
And while many asked for a greater law enforcement presence to handle the problems, some did an about-face when it came to a one- mile stretch of Crows Landing incorporated into the city of Ceres.
The area between Service Road and Whitmore Avenue annexed last year includes the El Rematito marketplace on Crows Landing and Hackett Road, which draws thousands of people every weekend. Those shoppers account for El Rematito owner Pedro Marquez's livelihood, and he says Ceres police are driving them away.
During the meeting, held at Hanshaw Middle School, he showed several enlarged photos taken on Easter weekend depicting an officer who had pulled over a driver and was having the driver's car towed.
Ceres Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges said his officers have been responding to Crows Landing for reports of auto thefts, assaults, vehicle burglaries, larceny and many traffic and parking violations, mostly on the weekend when the El Rematito Marketplace operates.
Since November, Ceres police have responded to 15 traffic collisions on Crows Landing, more than half of which were hit-and-runs, Borges said.
On the day Marquez's pictures were taken, officers wrote six traffic citations and towed three cars because either the driver didn't have a license, or in one case, had a warrant for his arrest. "There were four cop cars," Marquez said. "We'd be glad to work with you, but four patrol cars is too many."
Borges said officers respond to the traffic safety concerns on Crows Landing like they do other major thoroughfares in the city, like Hatch Road, Mitchell Road and Whitmore Avenue.
Some in attendance at the meeting even suggested racial profiling by law enforcement. "We absolutely don't stop people on Crows Landing for no reason. That is absolutely not true," said Sheriff Adam Christianson. "We are not specifically, indiscriminately targeting people."
He said some of the biggest concerns about the flea market, which is across the street from the Sheriff's Department, are alcohol consumption, pedestrian safety, parking and litter.
The market's 700-spot parking lot isn't sufficient to support the demand, so illegal parking along the east side of Crows Landing occurs weekly. Marquez plans to build a second parking lot north of the market, with 930 spots, but first must secure funding.
Flea-market customers were banned from using the Community Service Agency lot on Hackett Road in 2006 when employees complained about all the trash left behind. Customers still use the Sheriff's Department lot, but Christianson said every Monday, dirty diapers, fast-food containers and other trash are strewn there.
More concerning, he said, is when people jaywalk across four lanes of traffic to get to the market.
Borges agrees and said his department will continue efforts to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians in the area, which include enforcing traffic laws and, at times, towing the cars of unlicensed drivers.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.