Oxnard police will open a storefront station in the city's La Colonia district in an effort to battle gangs and drugs in the crime-choked barrio.
Under a crime-fighting program approved by the City Council on Tuesday, two officers and perhaps a commander will work full time starting in November out of a vacant building connected to a small cafe in the 300 block of Cooper Road.
The police storefront initially was planned for a public housing project in the heart of La Colonia, but city officials agreed that it was needed more near Cooper Road and Hayes Avenue, a violent area that police have called the drug-dealing capital of Ventura County.
"That's a tough area," Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said. "If any place needs it, that's the area."
Known as community-based policing, the program is designed to battle crime by inserting officers into a city's toughest neighborhoods. The idea is that by establishing a storefront station as headquarters for the local patrol, residents and police learn to trust each other and work together as equal partners to decide the best ways to fight crime.
Several business owners stepped forward this week to offer rent-free space for the storefront station, including Fulgencio and Consuelo Camberos, owners of the La Paloma Loncheria where police will set up shop.
"I see a lot of kids on the street who are lost," said Consuelo Camberos, cleaning up at the couple's small restaurant, which is enclosed behind heavy black metal doors and screens. "When you have good kids like I do, you have to try to help the kids who aren't so good."
From a window of the one-room cafe, Camberos can look out onto the intersection of Cooper Road and Hayes Avenue.
Last year, police arrested 416 suspected drug dealers and users in a three-square-block area surrounding that intersection, accounting for more than 20% of the drug busts made citywide. Police say every time they take a dealer off the street, another replaces him the next day. Drug-related robberies, assaults and homicides in that area have been on the rise.
In recent interviews, some area merchants refused to discuss the problems for fear of retaliation.
"I'm not afraid," Camberos said in Spanish. "This police station will be here to better the community. It will be for the benefit of everyone."
Some La Colonia residents initially questioned the need for the police storefront, worrying that it would blacken the eye of a community already suffering from a lousy reputation.
But a long line of residents and merchants stood before the council Tuesday to support the crime-fighting effort, saying a stronger police presence is needed to bring La Colonia crime under control.
"I know Colonia has a history of crime, but never to this extent," said Angel Estrada, owner of the Angel Hotel on Hayes Avenue. "It's just out of hand and I don't know any other way to bring it under control."
Added community activist Carlos Aguilera: "I support the substation wholeheartedly. It's a good first step."
Police Chief Harold Hurtt has been talking about inserting community-based policing into Oxnard's toughest neighborhoods since becoming chief two months ago.
First introduced on a large scale in Houston a decade ago, police storefronts have been credited with curbing crime in neighborhoods nationwide where repeated police visits weren't making a difference.
Hurtt said he believes that the same thing can happen in La Colonia and other Oxnard neighborhoods choked by crime.
"I think this concept will prove to be very successful," Hurtt told council members. "It will hopefully reduce the crime in that area."
The program, the first of its kind in Ventura County, will be paid for by a $80,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Hurtt said he will barely have enough officers to staff the Colonia station when it opens, but that he hopes to spread the idea to other tough neighborhoods as more officers are hired.
In addition, he said he will encourage other department employees to work out of the storefront station.