The Beat Goes On : Sheriff's Division Has Grown, Changed With East County


Thousand Oaks has grown--in size, population and social complexity--since Sgt. Kenneth Warren's rookie days 26 years ago.

So has Warren's employer, the Ventura County Sheriff's East Valley Division, which protects the booming cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark and unincorporated areas between the Conejo Grade and the Los Angeles County line.

In the mid-1960s, the East Valley Division had but a handful of deputies, based in a wing of the Moorpark Fire Station, covering all the communities east of the grade. There were no freeways and fewer than 100,000 residents.

Now the division is a $14-million-a-year force of 158 street cops, detectives and administrators who work from an ultramodern concrete-and-glass complex on Olsen Road in Thousand Oaks. They serve 159,623 people--nearly one-quarter of Ventura County's population.

Warren, back on east county streets as a patrol supervisor after working seven years in the sheriff's custody division, says he still loves the work and the region.

Tonight, however, he is slightly lost.

Warren steers his black-and-white cruiser down dark, twisting subdivision streets with his left hand, thumbing through a dog-eared Thomas Guide with his right to find the site of a reported auto accident.

The radio chatters with reports of vandalism, noisy youths, traffic violations, domestic squabbles. It has not shut up all night, Warren says.

"When I first started working out here in '67, there wasn't anything here," Warren says, glancing down to spot the address, then snapping off the map light.

"I used to be able to handle this whole city without a map, and now there are all these little dinky streets," he says. "Some of these new streets I haven't figured out yet."

Warren finds the street, then searches the curb for the house's address number painted in black on a patch of reflective white.

The numbered curb system is the product of a unique alliance between the police and the city. A sheriff's sergeant sits on the city's Planning Commission, reviewing construction plans on the principle of "environmental design," to ensure that Thousand Oaks' new neighborhoods are well-lit and designed to discourage crime.

The process governs everything from the quality of door locks to the potential hiding places created by trees and landscaping, said the officer, Sgt. Bruce Hansen.

"The purpose of my position is to look forward to what a project will look like when it's completed, and how to make it safe and secure," Hansen said.

Tonight, that planning has helped Warren pinpoint the address of the call.

He gets a quick briefing from the first officer on the scene, who tells him that an ambulance already came and went, carrying a woman whose parked car rolled free and broke her leg.

There's no need to stick around, so Warren cruises off to the next call--a plea for backup from one of the department's roving Special Enforcement Detail units.

An SED plainclothes officer in an unmarked Honda--assigned this night to cover traffic--has been tailing a car, following a fugitive from New York who is wanted on an armed robbery warrant.

The voice of SED Sgt. Dennis Carpenter crackles over Warren's radio, asking for a marked cruiser to back him up for the stop in case the suspect is armed or fails to pull over.

Warren flips on his flashers and surges down Moorpark Road.

In a flurry of red lights, the Honda and two black-and-white units pull over the suspect's car.

Officers order the burly young man out of the car, grab him and make him stand spraddle-legged on the sidewalk to be handcuffed and frisked. Then Warren rolls on, talking about the type of police calls his division must answer in the fast-growing region.

Police often arrest drunk and disorderly patrons outside a pair of nightspots that cater to young adults. They collar juveniles suspected of spray-painting graffiti. They have been making increasing numbers of narcotics arrests for possession and sale of PCP in Moorpark, where the powerful street drug seems to have become popular.

And perhaps most disturbing, they are still investigating a spate of armed jewelry store robberies committed by Angelenos who zoom into town in stolen cars, hit fast and hard, and flee down the freeway with their loot, later abandoning the stolen cars. The most recent of these was the February robbery of the Best Products Co. in the Janss Mall, where four men held employees at bay with drawn guns, smashed the glass display cases and fled with thousands of dollars in jewelry.

However, division Cmdr. William Wade says that this rash of crime by "freeway bandits" is the only sour note in what otherwise is one of the safest regions of the country.

FBI statistics show Thousand Oaks to be the nation's second-safest city of 100,000 or more in 1992, with an annual crime rate of 33.03 crimes per 1,000 residents.

Moorpark, with 26,388 residents, had an even lower rate of 21.3 crimes per 1,000 in 1992, and the unincorporated areas of east Ventura County boasted a rate of 16.6 crimes per 1,000, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Residents' thirst for law and order can sometimes make dealing with the public more taxing for police in the east county than on the other side of the Conejo Grade, Wade said recently.

"Their expectations are more those of an urban center," Wade said. "The majority of the population has migrated from Los Angeles County. They migrated to an area to escape what they didn't like, but at the same time they brought their expectations with them . . . . Their expectation is of instant response to their non-emergency needs. The person in west county, if you told them there'd be a delay, they'd say: 'OK, fine, I can wait. I've got a little work to do anyway.' "

But the residents' dedication to safe neighborhoods makes them more involved in programs such as Neighborhood Watch and DARE--and more willing to pay for police.

This year, Thousand Oaks is spending $8.4 million and Moorpark is spending nearly $2.2 million for the sheriff's services on a contract basis, while the county government pays for the rest. And Thousand Oaks is midway through a seven-year pact with the county to pay the debt service on the East Valley Sheriff's Station, built in 1989, and its own complement of police cruisers and equipment.

"The council and the community's dedication toward law enforcement--these have a big impact on the crime rates," said Lt. Lary Reynolds, Wade's second-in-command.

Moorpark residents also work well with police, said Lt. Geoff Dean, who supervises the deputies that patrol it.

"It's a great city," Dean said. "It's a safe city . . . . Just like any other city, we have burglaries and we have thefts . . . . But I guess the crime rate speaks for itself. We continue to have one of the lowest in the country."

Dean said he takes particular pride in his deputies' success at keeping tabs on an estimated 40 hard-core gang members and 40 gang hangers-on, and in his deputies' record of solving most of the city's vandalism cases.

"They know every little gang member in town, and every little crook in town," Dean said.

Recently, members of the Moorpark Unified School District board have criticized police for coming onto campus to question students suspected of crimes.

The practice disrupts the educational atmosphere and puts an unnecessary stigma on the kids, said board member Tom Baldwin.

But last week, the board agreed that legally it cannot come between police and crime suspects who must be questioned. And other Moorpark officials have nothing but praise for the department.

"One word: outstanding," said Moorpark Mayor Paul Lawrason. "In an ongoing relationship with law enforcement people, you will obviously come to some occasions where there's a little bit of a disagreement, but generally the service they provide us is really outstanding."

Lawrason said he would like to see more patrol officers available than the three regular one-man cruisers covering any given shift in the small, rural city and the detectives and officers who support them. But he admitted that the city gets what it can afford to pay for.

Thousand Oaks Councilman Frank Schillo said that his city, too, would like to see more officers on the street sometimes--such as more neighborhood bicycle patrols year-round and extra officers to direct chaotic holiday traffic lured to the city's malls during the Christmas shopping season.

But Schillo added: "As far as the police themselves and our relationship with them, I'm very happy about that. When we need the enforcement, when we need the traffic enforcement or the gang activity enforcement, we get it. I cannot complain about that at all."

Unfortunately, patrols in east county could be hindered if the County Board of Supervisors votes either to close the East Valley Division's booking facility or to pull deputies from guarding the East County Courthouse in Simi Valley, Wade said.

Although Sheriff Larry Carpenter has not officially recommended closing either facility, the supervisors have asked him to cut up to 10% from his $68.9-million budget, and he has said he is considering those options.

Wade said that if either facility closes, east county police--including the Simi Valley Police Department--would have to spend up to two or three hours driving suspects to the jail and court in Ventura for booking or arraignment.

The supervisors are weighing those possibilities against proposed cuts to non-emergency services offered in the east county, but Wade said there is no comparison.

"The realities are if you cannot venture out on the streets to utilize those services for fear of being victimized, what value are those services?" Wade said. "I think that they want a safe community, safe streets in which they can raise their children, without the intrusion of crime. They have to be willing to be part of it--first of all to pay for it, and second of all to support it."

Crime in East Ventura County Overall, crime has decreased steadily in the areas of east Ventura County protected by the East Valley Division of the Sheriff's Department. This graph shows the number of crimes per 1,000 people in each city and unincorporated areas, according to population estimates by the state Department of Finance.

AREA 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 Thousand Oaks 37.0 39.5 32.7 31.8 36.8 33.6 33.5 Moorpark* 23.8 22.4 22.2 Unincorporated 26.7 31.5 30.1 21.7 17.2 15.2 17.0 areas

AREA 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 Thousand Oaks 32.2 29.6 29.1 30.7 32.0 31.8 Moorpark* 18.4 19.5 19.2 18.9 22.9 Unincorporated 12.5 14.0 14.2 16.9 16.9 16.6 areas

AREA Thousand Oaks Moorpark* 21.3 Unincorporated areas

* Moorpark was incorporated mid-1983. The first full year of crime statistics available to the sheriff was 1984.

Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department

For the Record Los Angeles Times Saturday May 8, 1993 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction Wrong caption--A photograph's caption Friday incorrectly identified the head of the East Valley Division of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. He is Cmdr. William A. Wade.
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