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Holdup Training Helps Bank Workers Hold Up

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

June 21, 1999|Holly J. Wolcott

"Everybody freeze!"

Armed deputies wearing street clothes rush into a bank and scream those words as part of a new safety course offered by the sheriff's station in Camarillo.

During "mock bank robbery training," the cops simulate a takeover robbery to prepare bank employees for the real thing.

So far, half a dozen banks have participated, said Sheriff's Cmdr. Craig Husband.

"We don't want to scare them unnecessarily, but we do stage something that will shock them and let them know what they can expect," Husband said.

Tellers, loan officers and bank bigwigs are taught to follow orders during a robbery and be good witnesses.

They are told to look for tattoos and other distinguishing marks on the robber or robbers and make mental notes about height, weight, hair color and clothing.

Jerry Lukiewski, president of American Commercial Bank in Camarillo, said the training eased the psychological impact on employees at his bank, which was recently robbed by two men, one armed with a handgun.

"This is a traumatic incident in our industry, but we feel like we were better prepared," Lukiewski said.

After the holdup, American Commercial's employees got back to work. No one asked for stress leave.

*

Residents of a scenic stretch of Highway 101 north of Ventura haven't given up their long crusade to make the roadway safer.

A three-mile stretch between Mussel Shoals and La Conchita has a history of car crashes caused, in part, by drivers turning across oncoming traffic to reach the beachfront communities.

I wrote about the problem last December, after a third fatal crash on that stretch of roadway in 1998.

So far this year no fatalities have occurred, but California Highway Patrol Officer Dave Cockrill said there have been five crashes since January, at least one of which involved injuries.

County and state officials have met four times with residents in the last six months to discuss solutions, said Caltrans spokesman Tad Teferi.

Four options exist to make the road safer, including both long- and short-term answers. They range in cost from $350,000 to $20 million.

A $5.5-million option favored by some residents is constructing an underpass to allow drivers to exit the freeway and go underneath it to reach a frontage road.

La Conchita resident Mike Bell said residents could not reach agreement on an option, so transportation officials put the choices to a poll.

Results of the poll are expected to be given to Caltrans, and Teferi said a draft report on a project is due this week. He didn't know when action would be taken.

Safety measures for this area have been debated for more than 30 years, with few results. Bell has hope, though, that improvements will be made soon.

"I'm retired, so I have lots of time to keep beating and flogging them," Bell said.

*

In a variation on the old quiz-show routine, a robber came looking for cash at an Oxnard furniture store this weekend but left with the bedroom set instead.

The manager of the Furniture Connection on South A Street said a man armed with a handgun showed up Friday and demanded cash. Employees said they were broke. A check of the register showed it was dry, as well.

"He said if there was no money that he was leaving with something," said manager Alfred Gutierrez.

Gutierrez said he and another employee were forced at gunpoint to load a matching wooden headboard, mattress set, dresser and two night stands worth $2,500 into the robber's pickup.

Meanwhile, authorities were called. They arrested Ralph Lopez, 32, after a brief chase, said Oxnard Police Officer Martin Garcia. Lopez was being held in county jail Sunday on suspicion of robbery.

"Maybe he knew what he wanted from the start," Gutierrez said. "He took the most expensive set."

*

Ventura police say they have received a dozen complaints of people posing as members of Neighborhood Watch groups offering to paint addresses on street curbs for a fee.

The unknown individuals are leaving fliers on homes throughout the city advertising the job for $10, Ventura Police Cpl. David Wilson said.

The service being touted on the fliers is neither endorsed by Ventura police nor by the department's Neighborhood Watch program.

"We really encourage people to have their addresses painted on their curbs, but we don't want them to have the false sense they are participating in a program that we sanction," Wilson said.

Wilson said whoever is soliciting the business is not licensed by the city, as is required by law. There is only one such local business currently licensed with the city, Wilson said.

Soliciting work under false pretenses is an age-old scam, so heed the warning and help curb crime.

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