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Merchants Press to Revive Crime Watch


Alarmed by escalating crime and confrontations with transients, downtown Ventura merchants have jump-started a crime watch program aimed at forcing police to restore foot patrols in the business district.

Shopkeepers say petty theft, burglaries and other problems have risen steadily since budget cuts forced cancellation early this year of the full-time police patrols.

"I'm tired of it," said business owner Bonnie Convey, one of about two dozen merchants who gathered Wednesday night to talk to police and city officials about the problems downtown. "This malicious damage is driving us out of business."

Of primary concern, merchants said, is a growing, more violent group of homeless people living in the Ventura River bottom and other downtown areas. Merchants say many of the transients hang out downtown, panhandling and scaring off customers.

"When the foot patrol was here it made a difference," said Dee Frisbie, a downtown merchant who led the push to re-establish the crime watch program. "We're striking back and fighting for what we want. We just want people to feel safe to come downtown."

Merchants acknowledge that their own lack of involvement hasn't helped the situation.

For years, merchants met regularly to discuss crime and other problems in the downtown area. But as attendance dropped off, merchants say the downtown began to be ignored.

Finally, at the start of the year, the daily foot patrols were disbanded in favor of a weekend patrol.

"There is no question that when we had the downtown foot patrols, those folks were less noticeable," shopkeeper Chuck Voigtsberger said before Wednesday night's meeting. "When the city decided that they didn't have the money for foot patrols, they became more visible."

Council members who attended the Wednesday night meeting said they would do what they could to address the merchants' concerns, noting that the council is scheduled to discuss police staffing next week. And police said they will do whatever the City Council wants.

"If the City Council directs us to give you a foot patrol back, then you're going to get a foot patrol," Capt. Randy Adams told the merchants.

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