Suspects in the Planada, Le Grand and Winton areas got a rude awakening Friday after Merced County agencies performed a law enforcement sweep, rooting out felons with illegal weapons, warrants and violators of probation.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the Merced County Probation Office, Merced Police Department and multi-agency Gang Task Force Friday to arrest 14 individuals.
Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brankel Nobari said the sweep included multiple probation compliance checks and proactive “zero tolerance” patrols in those areas.
The arrests ranged from probation violations, felony arrest warrants and possession of assault rifles, cocaine and high capacity magazines, Nobari said. Officials also seized five firearms.
The identities of the suspects were not available Friday night.
Nobari said there has been a noticeable increase in criminal activities in the targeted areas, such as drive-by shootings and stolen vehicles.
The exact reason for the recent increase is unknown, Nobari said, noting that Sheriff Vern Warnke wanted to let the community know that law enforcement is going to have a strong presence.
Improved staffing levels have contributed to the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to conduct sweeps like this, Warnke told the Sun-Star Friday.
“The staffing levels have improved greatly at the Sheriff’s Office since the Board of Supervisors have approved the generous raise that the men and women have deserved for a while,” Warnke said.
Warnke argued for an increase in pay for deputies at a Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting in June.
Low pay, Warnke argued, created a problem recruiting and retaining deputies, leading to low staffing, longer response times and deputies who work overtime.
About three months after that meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a long-awaited 10 percent raise.
Warnke said he expects to form a street gang unit within a few months, as the department becomes fully staffed.
“This is the first of many of these types of sweeps that we are going to conduct,” he said.