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Police Open 2nd Storefront Substation : Crime-fighting: Gangs and drug activity in Oxnard's Southwinds neighborhood will be targeted.

August 12, 1993|JULIE FIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To Oxnard resident Cheryl Barron, Wednesday's opening of a police storefront in the crime-troubled Southwinds neighborhood was long overdue.

For six years, Barron said, she heard gunshots at night, put up with drunks stumbling into her yard and worried about being robbed by gang members.

"When the sun goes down, you go inside your building," she said.

But now that Oxnard police are establishing a permanent presence less than a mile from her door, the 34-year-old Barron believes there's a chance things may change.

"It makes us feel like we're not ignored by the city anymore," she said Thursday after watching a ribbon-cutting ceremony that drew several dozen community and city leaders, including Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez and Councilman Bedford Pinkard.

For now, the Southwinds Police and Community Storefront, as the sign above the door reads, will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and staffed mainly by volunteers. It is located in a 1,600-square-foot retail space in a strip-shopping center in the 400 block of Hueneme Road.

The Southwinds storefront is the second police outpost in Oxnard, and Ventura County. In October, Oxnard police opened a storefront station in La Colonia to combat the same type of problems Southwinds faces: drugs, gangs and the unpredictable violence they bring.

Since the La Colonia station opened, violent crime in the barrio has dropped and drug dealers are less evident, police say.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt, who came to Oxnard just over a year ago, said he hopes the success in La Colonia will be repeated in Southwinds.

It will be an uphill struggle.

In 1988, police staged an intense crackdown that swept away many of the prostitutes and drug dealers who had all but taken over Aleric Street. To reflect the make-over, the city changed the street's name to Cuesta Del Mar.

But four years later, signs of the area's seedy past reappeared when police presence was no longer so intense. Robberies and assaults shot up to a level higher than before the crackdown.

Now, residents say, prostitutes are rarely seen, but gang members and drug dealers are abundant.

Residents who know the history of the area say that with the storefront, police have a good chance of winning the battle.

"This time, if the police do it right, they can control this area, no problem," said Tony Lewis, 31, who coaches in a city recreation program at Southwinds Park and Art Haycox School, which is in Southwinds.

In addition to giving residents a place to report crime, the Southwinds storefront will be used by code-enforcement officers and for youth recreation activities, Hurtt said.

"We see this as a holistic cure for the crime problem," he said.

In a greater sense, Hurtt said, the storefronts are a step toward fulfilling his dream of having officers working closely with citizens throughout the city to thwart crime.

That concept, known as community-based policing, has taken root across the country as departments scramble to start programs tailored to the needs of diverse communities. Foot patrols, Neighborhood Watch and police recreation leagues are all examples of community-based policing.

During his speech Thursday, Hurtt referred repeatedly to the idea of a "partnership" between residents and police officers. He praised Southwinds residents for their help in getting the storefront open. The space was donated to the city rent-free for one year by John Barber, who owns the Skate Palace next to the mini-station.

"This is a community that has realized crime is not a police problem, but a community problem," he said.

Unlike the La Colonia operation, the Southwinds storefront will not come out of the Oxnard police budget.

Instead, $278,000 in funds from the Oxnard Redevelopment Agency will be used to cover the salaries of two full-time police officers, one code-enforcement officer and a part-time community service coordinator who will work with the neighborhood council.

Redevelopment project coordinator Dena Garcia said it is the first time such an arrangement has been tried in Oxnard. The $278,000 covers expenses for one year, after which the program will be reviewed, she said.

Ultimately, city officials hope that reducing crime in Southwinds will prompt new investment in the area, Garcia said. Southwinds is one of four redevelopment projects in the city of Oxnard.

Inside, there is new carpeting on the floor, desks for officers, a map of the neighborhood and a community bulletin board.

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