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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

More Cops May Walk Community College Beat

May 10, 1999|Holly J. Wolcott

How much money should be spent protecting students?

That's the question Ventura County Community College trustees are scheduled to decide next week.

Over the past decade, crime at the district's three campuses in Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark has steadily increased as the number of police officers on the college force has decreased.

The Board of Trustees' options are to stick with the current staffing level of 23 full- and part-time officers, or to spend about a quarter of a million dollars to add manpower.

If trustees vote to ante up, they must then decide whether the money should go for eight new cops or be spent hiring a private security firm whose employees would patrol the campuses at night.

Students, staff and residents living near the colleges have told district Police Chief Jamie Skeeters they want real cops.

"There's night school, student activities and meetings at night. Unarmed, unsworn officers is not the best idea," he said.

So far, trustees have indicated a willingness to follow the chief's lead. In January, they approved his plan to have the Police Department certified by the state.

This means each officer must complete more than 100 hours of training on matters ranging from domestic violence and mental health to studying new laws.

The board also supported the chief's new Campus Oriented Policing program, which has officers teaching safety measures and talking to students and residents about their concerns.

The program has inspired students, staff and officers to pick up litter, paint over graffiti and replace burnt-out bulbs in poorly lighted parking lots.

But will the board spend the big money--something it hasn't done for its campus police in a long time?

"I think they will," the chief said. "They see the need for more police officers because of all the violence on campuses throughout the nation."

*

Speaking of leaders and their ideas, newly appointed Santa Paula Police Chief Bob Gonzales just finished his first week. But he already has a plan that includes hiring another cop, meeting with residents and reorganizing a special unit to help fight big-time crime.

It's a simple agenda but one the chief admits will be tough going because the department doesn't have a dime to spare.

"If I didn't think I could do it, I wouldn't have taken the job," he said.

Instead of filling the commander's position he vacated to take the chief's job, Gonzales said the money should be used to hire another rank-and-file officer for the 29-member force.

The administrative workload will now be split between the new chief and the other department commander, Mark Hanson.

Gonzales also wants to meet the people he serves. He said he intends to talk with students, service clubs, mobile-home owners and real estate agents, to name a few.

"I want to introduce myself and I want to find out their concerns and know what their expectations are of me," the chief said.

Last, Gonzales wants to bring back the department's special enforcement detail, a group of plainclothes cops that handled the big stuff: murder, drugs and gang crime--of which there has been plenty in this small town in the past year.

That rejuvenated detail would be made up of officers pulled from routine patrol duty.

"If I'm going to put as many people in jail as possible to make this place safer, I'm going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul," Gonzales said.

*

While driving my beat-up pickup back to Ventura after Gonzales' recent Sunday afternoon swearing-in ceremony, a California Highway Patrol officer pulled me over.

I deal with cops every day and have had my share of tickets, but, like every other motorist, I never get used to being stopped--especially when I'm innocent.

After pulling to the side of the road, I clutched the steering wheel in despair and started thinking about writing a check with a lot of zeros.

Was it possible my little imported hunk of junk actually topped 65?

I briefly considered the idea that the officer was a Crime Watch fan. No such luck.

As it turned out, the law wanted my passenger for allegedly failing to properly secure her three-point harness.

In English, she had the shoulder strap of her seat belt tucked under her armpit, a violation of state law punishable by a $22 fine.

The cop gave her a break because the belt was indeed buckled, but he issued a stern warning about proper usage.

My friend and I didn't become statistics that day, but our encounter showed how seriously the CHP is taking seat-belt safety. In fact, we were stopped during Safe Kids Week--created as a reminder for parents and drivers to make sure children are properly belted in.

The Ventura CHP office issued 6,124 seat-belt infractions in 1998 and 6,300 the year before. Some ticket recipients were guilty by association. The driver of any vehicle carrying a passenger under 16 who is not belted in gets the ticket.

"The whole idea of the three-point safety harness is that in an accident the lap belt keeps your butt in the seat and the shoulder strap keeps you from coming forward," said CHP Officer Dave Cockrill.

Holly J. Wolcott can be reached by e-mail at holly.wolcott@latimes.com.

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