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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

For Some Cop Jobs, Street Smarts Not Enough

September 25, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

What job can you get straight out of high school that will allow you to hang out with a rowdy crowd, drive a car at top speeds and carry a loaded gun?

Criminal? Think again.

The only educational requirement to become a cop at nearly every Ventura County law enforcement agency is to graduate from high school or earn a general equivalency diploma. Only the FBI requires a college degree.

In fact, a high school graduate with no additional formal education can rise to the top ranks of the California Highway Patrol or the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, although few do.

The theory behind the minimal educational requirement has long been that the best experience is to spend a lot of time working the streets as a beat cop.

But smarter criminals and increasingly diverse communities are prompting law enforcement officials to believe that book smarts are as important as street smarts.

"More education makes a better police officer because you go through a lot of critical thinking and you learn the histories of a lot of people," said Oxnard Police Sgt. Marty Meyer, who is working on a master's degree.

Although a high school diploma will get you in the door, more education can mean a better starting pay, and most local police agencies now require one to four years of college to get promoted.

For example, 60 college units are needed to be a Simi Valley police sergeant and 90 units are necessary for all Ventura police lieutenants. Santa Paula police require an associate's degree to be a commander.

"Being well educated can prepare you for the challenges of being a police officer in the 21st century," said Ventura Police Lt. Quinn Fenwick, whose department offers tuition reimbursement for those who continue their schooling on the job.

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The Ventura County Sheriff's Department has issued a heads-up to anyone thinking about buying that pimple-faced kid outside the liquor store or convenience mart a six-pack of beer.

Sometime during the next six months, deputies plan to conduct a sting operation in Moorpark in which decoys will be used to trap unsuspecting shoppers.

Called the "Shoulder Tap Program," authorities plan to send out underage volunteers who will wait outside stores and randomly ask adults to buy alcoholic beverages for them.

The operation is in response to a growing number of complaints from local parent groups in Moorpark and part of a statewide program by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to crack down on underage drinking.

Although buying a little hooch for a teen may not seem like a big deal, it is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and community service. And if a person accepts money in exchange for making the purchase, the consequence could be two days in jail.

Statistics recently released by state officials show that more than half of all high school students have tried alcohol or have gotten drunk, local authorities said.

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Commit a crime, do time.

It sounds simple enough, but sometimes criminals elude punishment even after they've been convicted.

Such is the case of 35-year-old former Ventura resident Channa Pryia Ruberoe, whom authorities have been seeking for seven years since his conviction for molesting his 10-year-old stepdaughter.

Ruberoe was found guilty of three counts of child molestation in July 1993, but his wife, the victim's mother, posted his $75,000 bail before sentencing.

In 1995, authorities tracked Ruberoe to Sri Lanka, where he is a citizen. He was arrested and jailed there, but Sri Lankan authorities freed him during an appeal of his extradition and he hasn't been heard from since.

Anyone with information about Ruberoe is asked to call Ventura County Crime Stoppers at 385-TALK or 494-TALK.

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

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