Angry and frightened residents of a Camarillo neighborhood confronted city officials this week with horror stories of rampages by "skinhead" gang members and accusations that the police have failed to respond quickly enough to their calls.
Police spokesmen said they lack the staff for a full-time anti-gang task force, as residents had requested, but pledged more intensive patrols of the area.
As residents trooped into a meeting room at a Camarillo elementary school Tuesday night, each was asked to mark his home on a map so officials could see what residents described as "a neighborhood under siege."
The neighbors recounted their stories in anguished tones, telling of death threats, children who have been beaten and threatened, burglarized homes, smashed windows and slashed tires. One mother told of sending her daughter out of state because of the gang's influence, and a grandfather sadly apologized to his neighbors for the actions of his granddaughter, a gang member. "Unless you have money, you can't get help for these kids," he said.
Skinheads, known by their shaved scalps, their garb of studded leather, their acts of violence and their hatred of Jews and minorities, identify themselves with a national neo-Nazi movement. However, the neighborhood allegedly terrorized by a small band of skinheads is predominantly Anglo and lower middle class, bordering a housing tract for U.S. Navy personnel.
Some neighbors, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussion, said they were arming themselves.
"I'm on the watch," one man said. If gang members come into his back yard, he said, "I have a nice surprise for them."
But one resident countered, "I've got a feeling some people want to become part of the problem. I hate to see us become vigilantes. We shouldn't be dealing with emotionalisms."
Camarillo Mayor Sandi Bush cautioned people about appearing at Wednesday night's City Council meeting, saying she feared for residents' safety if gang members should watch the televised council proceedings.
But Jessie Roybal, who said she had been targeted by rock-hurling skinheads, said she planned to attend the meeting anyway to thank council members for their concern.
Roybal, who organized the first neighborhood meeting on the gang last Thursday, said she was overcome at seeing more than 50 residents at Tuesday's meeting. "We're all going to stand up. We will not take this. We'll keep 'em out!"
By the end of the three-hour meeting, Camarillo officials came away with a list of the residents' demands. They included a swifter response to 911 telephone calls; distribution of information about gangs by the police to schools, parents and churches; and patroling of local schools.
Bush told the residents: "I came here to listen. What I have heard is that you care about more than your own neighborhood. . . . I also hear that you haven't been communicating with the police. When you have a problem, call the police--don't hesitate one minute."
Police officials said they first heard of the problem in the neighborhood Feb. 16, when a gang that was a rival of the skinhead gang broke windows in a house occupied by a 90-year-old woman. A skinhead gang member lives in a trailer on the property.
The neighborhood skinheads retaliated that night by tossing four or five Molotov cocktails into the front yard of a home six blocks away and shattering a window with a 2-by-4, according to police. Nobody was injured, but a 17-year-old was arrested, police said.
Several days later, according to Roybal, the skinheads continued their revenge by roughing up a 13-year-old girl on her street.
Cmdr. Ray Abbott of the Camarillo Police Department told residents that the problem with police response time is that the city has only three cars patrolling at any one time. Because the reported crime rate is 25 crimes per 1,000 people, it is difficult to get extra money for another patrol car, he said.
But those statistics did not impress Roybal.
"I will dispute his figures because I know that people are scared to death of the police. I'm not kidding." Referring to the police, she said, "I know they are not getting the whole picture. Citizens hate to call the police. Now we know they are not quite the demons we thought, . . . we have to start phoning in to make them respond to us."