SIMI VALLEY — A Democratic activist said he and some San Fernando Valley high school students were rattled last Saturday when Simi Valley police cruisers seemed to "tail" them while they knocked on doors and handed out political literature.
But Simi Valley police responded that if the young political canvassers saw officers, it was only because police are always on the streets in a city that FBI statistics show to be among the nation's safest.
"It was kind of unnerving," said Jeff Schwartz, a biology teacher from Cleveland High School in Reseda.
Schwartz said police officers never approached him or any of the 15 Cleveland High 10th-graders who were canvassing precincts south of Los Angeles Avenue on behalf of Democratic legislative candidates.
But he said the group of white, Latino and Filipino students seemed to be under police surveillance from 11:30 a.m. until they left at 2:30 p.m.
"As we were walking, there were police cars within two or three blocks of where we were," Schwartz said.
At first, he said he figured a neighbor had called police, but he grew concerned when police cars continued to remain nearby. All of the students are well-schooled in lawful campaign techniques and none had dressed or acted inappropriately, he said.
"I know these kids," Schwartz said. "They are solid students. I had no goof-offs."
The teenagers were urging residents in the conservative community to vote for President Clinton, Democratic Assembly candidate Jon M. Lauritzen and Democratic state Senate candidate John Birke. Lauritzen is running against GOP candidate Tom McClintock in the 38th Assembly District and Birke is challenging state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) in the 19th District.
Simi Valley Police Chief Randy Adams said police logs show no record of a problem Sept. 14, the day the youths were canvassing. He believes Schwartz and the students erroneously jumped to conclusions.
"They may see police officers much more frequently in Simi Valley than they are used to seeing in the San Fernando Valley," Adams said. "If that made them suspicious, that's unfortunate. Our officers are very friendly and approachable."
Adams said no one directed patrol officers to keep an eye on the precinct walkers.
But Simi Valley police, he said, take pride in paying close attention to Simi Valley neighborhoods.
"That's why we are one of the safest cities in America," Adams said. "That's why people want to live here."
Schwartz said he does not plan to file a formal complaint, but will return today to the Republican-dominated city with another group of students carrying Democratic literature.
"I just want some kind of reassurance," he said, "that we are not being placed under surveillance because we are considered undesirables or don't belong in the community."
Adams said everyone is welcome to campaign in Simi Valley.
"We're not out there to harass anybody," Adams said. "We are out there to provide for public safety."