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Community Must Do Its Part

May 14, 2000

Families in the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County remain rattled by repercussions from two recent shootings at the Conejo Creek condominium complex in Newbury Park.

On April 28, as parents stood outside talking and children played in the street, two carloads of men opened fire on Edgar Cruz, 19, and his friend Andres Morales, 18. Cruz died at the scene; Morales was treated and released.

Sheriff's deputies arrested seven men in connection with the shootings, all members of a Salvadoran gang from Van Nuys. Scores of police also swept through 11 residences in Newbury Park and Van Nuys, seizing evidence. One gang member has been charged with attempted murder of Morales but none has been charged with the Cruz slaying; three have been released.

Two days later, gunmen fired on a group of condominium residents on their way to a memorial service for Cruz. This time, no one was injured.

Quite naturally, the shootings inspired calls for greater police presence in Conejo Creek, one of the few lower-income areas of affluent Thousand Oaks. We agree that police resources should be deployed where they are most critically needed in this, one of the nation's safest cities. But there is a limit to what law enforcement authorities can do by themselves.

We challenge community residents to channel their anger and fear in two directions:

* Respond more vigorously to community policing efforts that already exist. Last year, concerned that the 540-unit complex showed the highest crime rate in town, the city purchased one of the condominiums, turned it into a combination police substation and community center and stationed one of its Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) officers there for six months. Violent crime and gang-related violence declined 85% but the officer failed to persuade residents to support a Neighborhood Watch program.

* Acknowledge and work to resolve ethnic friction within Conejo Creek. Police believe the recent violence stemmed from conflicts between community residents from Mexico and a Salvadoran immigrant who had recently moved to the complex and had ties to the Van Nuys gang. We hope these shootings inspire greater attention to Mexican-Salvadoran tension in Van Nuys as well as in Newbury Park.

On Tuesday, the Thousand Oaks City Council will consider a proposal to again assign an officer to Conejo Creek. The decision should be based on the willingness of residents to organize a Neighborhood Watch and to address cultural differences. There aren't enough police in the nation to keep the peace unless community residents do their part.

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