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In Ventura, Police Take on New Role : Law enforcement: Department will stress long-term projects and responsiveness to the community.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Following the lead of cities across the country, Ventura police are taking a series of steps that add up to a new approach to law enforcement.

Called problem-oriented policing, the program encourages officers to take more responsibility for their city.

They will be asked to look for ways to tackle problems that lead to neighborhood blight. And officers will be assigned to follow up on some crime reports previously handled by detectives.

At the same time, more crime reports will be taken over the phone--on such infractions as vandalism and auto burglary--and the department will cut back the hours its front counter is open to the public. Those changes are intended to reduce the number of non-emergency calls handled by patrol officers, giving them more time to work on long-term projects.

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“It doesn’t really matter what you call it. The biggest thing is that the Police Department works with the community on issues of crime and safety,” said Lt. Mike Tracy, one of two administrators coordinating the program.

Tracy and others acknowledge that the changes will not eclipse the traditional law-enforcement practices of arrest and investigation. But they are aimed at adding longer-range thinking to daily police work and encouraging officers to attack the roots of crime.

“We’re hoping to go back to the way police work used to be done, the cop on the beat. That’s all it is,” said Cpl. John Leach, who has helped develop the department’s Community-Problem Oriented Policing program.

In Ventura County, the Oxnard Police Department has been the most aggressive in developing a community-oriented policing program. The city now has storefront stations in high-crime areas, a cable TV program on crime prevention and officers who work closely with neighborhood patrols.

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Ventura Police Sgt. Carl Handy said he would like to see his department copy Oxnard’s strong emphasis on patrol beats and on designating officers to follow up neighborhood complaints about graffiti, unlit streets, abandoned cars and even late garbage collection.

“I think that makes the cops a little more responsive to the people they work with,” he said.

For the past six months, a seven-person gang detail supervised by Handy has tackled the kind of problems the department hopes all patrol officers soon will handle. The pilot program targeted drug dealing on the corner of Harrison and Olive streets in Ventura, a vacant house turned party pad and a group of people living in cars along the side of West Main Street.

The vacant house in the 300 block of East McFarlane Street--which had been broken into and covered inside with graffiti--was tackled with the help of non-police resources. City code enforcement workers contacted the property owner about the problem and boarded up the windows.

Sherry Jeffery, a code enforcement officer, said she thinks the teamwork approach is simply a necessity of the times.

“Our resources are dwindling, and we’re all having to work a little tighter and a little closer,” she said.

Ventura police administrators say they hope to have at least three patrol officers per shift working on community policing within the next month. Getting all the patrol officers to embrace the concept will take a little longer.

“There’s a lot of anxiety over something like this, simply because it’s different and new,” Handy said.

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The president of the Ventura police union agreed with Handy, saying most patrol officers support the concept of community policing but are wary because they’re not sure what it means.

“I just think they should be a little more firm in exactly what their implementation plan is going to be,” said Cpl. John Garner, president of the Ventura Police Officers Assn. “There’s just a little too much unknown.”


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