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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

Pay Up, Morale Down for Port Hueneme Police

May 22, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

Cops in Port Hueneme have a little money but not a lot of love.

Morale at the tiny Port Hueneme Police Department is low in the wake of news last week that a majority of the department's officers and non-sworn personnel have issued a vote of no confidence against Police Chief Stephen Campbell.

In a written survey of police association members, Campbell was described as an ineffective manager who is feared by employees, according to union leaders.

The survey results will be presented to the City Council next month.

Meanwhile, union members say they are thrilled with news of their raises.

Cops, dispatchers and the other 30 or so members of the Port Hueneme Police Assn. have reached an agreement with the city for a 6.3% pay hike during the next year.

"We are extremely happy, because this is the best contract we have ever received," said Tony Paradis, association president.

The officers will remain some of the lowest paid in the county, ranking just slightly above the last-place Santa Paula PD. But in dollars and cents, the raise equates to a couple of nice meals out or a week's worth of day care each month.

For example, a Port Hueneme cop who's been on the job for about five years could get about $150 more a month, Paradis said.

The new contract also includes a small allowance for the rising cost of the city's health-care plan and gives officers the option to work three, 12-hour days versus the standard five-day, 40-hour week.

The scheduling flexibility will make the department more attractive when recruiting new officers, Paradis said.

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Santa Paula cops are stumped.

It's been three months since 41-year-old Mario Lizarraga was shot twice in the head and left for dead inside his Main Street clothing store. Detectives haven't any good clues about his attacker.

"We haven't got much," Police Chief Bob Gonzales said. "We are still looking at anything and everything and we keep going back through, hoping we will find something, but it's been tough."

The father of three likely knew his killer. Because detectives have found no evidence of a forced entry, it appears Lizarraga may have opened the front door for the killer. Lizarraga often worked late at his store and he was gunned down about midnight Feb. 26.

Detectives believe some jewelry and clothing were stolen, but they question whether robbery was the primary motive because cash was left in the till.

Although Lizarraga kept messy and incomplete accounting books, authorities can find no evidence that he owed anyone a lot of money.

In addition to running Lita's Clothing for more than a decade, Lizarraga was involved in promoting musical acts and rodeos. Interviews with entertainers he dealt with have turned up little, Gonzales said.

"I believe he knew the killer, but we don't know the reason for the killing," the chief added.

There have been 34 homicides in this small city since 1980 and the Lizarraga slaying is one of six that are unsolved. Four of the outstanding cases are gang slayings and, although investigators believe they know who the killers are, they've been unable to make arrests because witnesses refuse to cooperate.

In only Lizarraga's case and the 1987 execution-style killing of Pedro Pachuca, a family man gunned down outside his residence on his way to work, are they truly baffled, Gonzales said.

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It's not a matter of crime, but it could save lives.

The Oxnard Fire Department recently purchased a $20,000 camera that allows firefighters to search for victims inside burning buildings in which there is zero visibility because of heavy smoke or flames.

The thermal imaging camera, which uses infrared technology, allows the operator to see a picture of varying degrees of heat. That information can lead firefighters to a trapped victim or a hot spot in the blaze.

"The concept behind thermal imaging is that all matter absorbs and radiates heat at different rates. These differences in temperature allow for the thermal camera to compare and contrast heat in a given area," Battalion Chief Mike O'Malia said.

The hand-held device was only recently released by the military for commercial use and gained fame earlier this month when authorities in North Carolina said such cameras were helping history buffs scan objects as deep as 25 feet underground in a search for more evidence of a long buried Civil War prison camp.

*

Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at 653-7581 or at holly.wolcott@latimes.com.

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