For years, they made headlines regularly, chronicling one successful operation after another: “Drug sting nets six heroin sales suspects at the Monterey Transit Plaza,” reads one from 2013. “Three alleged Sureño gang members arrested as suspects in Monterey beach murder,” reads one from 2015.
The group even played a role in the tale of former Pacific Grove Police Cmdr. Jon Nyunt, who served 30 months in prison for selling weapons stolen from Monterey Peninsula College’s police academy: When Nyunt consigned stolen firearms to a Marina shop, he told the firearms dealer he was selling them to benefit the Peninsula Regional Violence and Narcotics Team.
When PRVNT officially formed in 2012 following the shutdown of the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement in 2011, it was with the idea that it would tackle the kind of complex cases that would benefit most from a multi-jurisdictional approach, and it would do so by bringing together a commander and two detectives from Seaside, two detectives from Monterey, an officer each from Marina and P.G., a California Highway Patrol officer and part-time officers from Carmel, Sand City and CSU Monterey Bay. They would share intelligence, informants and workload, and they’d take a proactive approach to stop gang violence before it started.
But in the past several months, there’s been a change. While PRVNT hasn’t been disbanded, staffing shortages at the Seaside Police Department – there are 11 openings, despite a $30,000 signing bonus the department has dangled to entice officers who want to transfer over from other departments – have meant detectives once assigned to the team are now needed for patrol.
As of Nov. 1, PRVNT’s members are meeting weekly to share information as they figure out who will lead the group. The current commander, Monterey Police Lt. Ethan Andrews, is due to rotate out of the PRVNT leadership assignment he’s held for three years.
“We have not discussed not taking on new cases,” says PRVNT board chair Abdul Pridgen, Seaside’s police chief. “We have discussed the way cases are allotted, the individual agencies will take the lead on cases and PRVNT will support those agencies. It’s not much different than what’s happened historically, although PRVNT would normally spearhead.”
Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers, who is prosecuting an alleged drug dealer accused of selling the counterfeit fentanyl pills tied to a spate of overdoses, including the fatal overdose of a 16-year-old girl who died on a Seaside sidewalk in October, says PRVNT detectives have told him the fentanyl case may be the team’s last.
“I can say without question as a prosecutor that when we got requests from PRVNT, we always knew we were getting quality work,” Somers says. “They have stopped gang wars from happening and I don’t mean that lightly. The value of what they do is unbelievable and they have the most professionalism, most follow-through and most success in dealing with criminal problems.”
Until the staffing issues are dealt with, though, PRVNT may be an intelligence-sharing group only.
“Staffing has always been an issue in Seaside, and we’re not able to assign the requisite number of people we need,” Pridgen says.