Some of Santa Ana’s most commuted streets had restrictions in place this weekend, forcing residents to find alternate routes or avoid travel altogether.
The street closures began around 6 p.m. on Sunday as described in a release by the Santa Ana police department just over a week ago. The notice alerted residents that the department would be “taking pro-active measures to deter cruising activity throughout the city on Easter evening” and would be affecting “several city neighborhoods.” The statement assured the public that the operation "should not effect commuters.”
The holiday weekend operation has taken place for several years in the city of Santa Ana and has been witness to various tactics employed by Santa Ana police officers. In previous years, police have utilized armored Special Weapons And Tactics (S.W.A.T.) vehicles as part of their street patrol, used motorcycle officers to force traffic from smaller routes in residential neighborhoods onto closed-off avenues, and have even chained off intersecting streets.
The street closures, however, have always taken place around a specific perimeter within city limits. As noted by SAPD, traffic on N Bristol St between W 1st St and W Warner Ave was limited to one lane each direction (north and south). Edinger Ave between Bristol St and Main St was completely closed, and Main St between W 1st and E Anahurst Pl was also limited to one lane in each direction.
Similar to the city’s bi-monthly “sobriety” checkpoints, the “traffic control” operation is kept away from commercially prominent regions such as South Coast Plaza in the South, and the Westfield MainPlace Mall in the North, as well as the Downtown District, the Civic Center sector, and Santa Ana’s affluent Floral Park community.
In addition to closures, these streets are heavily patrolled by police who resort to concealing themselves in shopping center parking lots and even stationing themselves in the middle of the road with their headlights turned off to avoid being detected by commuters.
“They start pulling people over for no reason,” expressed a driver who had stationed his vehicle at a nearby plaza as he planned a way to get through the intersections, “people just want to be with their families this weekend, and this just scares them away because a lot of them think there’s a checkpoint going on.”
Similarly, numerous residents made attempts to avoid being “trapped” by what would seem like a police sanctioned checkpoint, forcibly maneuvering around traffic cones and barricades only to fall victims of watchful officers. Other drivers, confused or unaware of the restrictions, collided with a few cones ultimately slowing traffic as officers or city workers reorganized the temporary lane markers.
In response to the yearly S.A.P.D. operation, community “copwatch” groups gathered their efforts for a patrol of Bristol Street on Sunday.
Copwatch is a community-based self-defense tactic that primarily focuses on directly monitoring and documenting police conduct. Local Copwatch collectives have formed in cities such as Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and the Inland Empire, as well as through major cities throughout the United States. Though the focus of each group can vary, most are a direct response to escalating abuse and harassment by police agencies in their respective communities.
Officers seemed alert at the presence of cameras recording their actions during Sunday’s operation. Some tense moments even ensued when Santa Ana Police Sergeant, Matthew Craig, shoved one copwatcher while recording a traffic stop. Sgt. Craig, who is recognized by local community members for being “short-tempered,” has also been reported to harass and intimidate residents and neighborhood copwatchers during Santa Ana checkpoints.
“They [police] have started following us after the checkpoints,” explained one resident, “they follow us after we get in the car and follow behind on their motorcycles.”
Many community members and copwatch volunteers frequent the city’s “sobriety” and driver’s license checkpoints to deter residents from driving through as they are seen as a disproportionate burden on migrant, “undocumented” drivers who are unable to obtain a driver’s license.
Sunday’s operation continued through the night and was scheduled to end at 3 a.m.