After years of complaints from residents that city officials neglect the Ventura Avenue area, police said Friday they have completed negotiations to open a storefront police station in one of the city’s poorest, crime-ridden neighborhoods.
The storefront, behind the Vons shopping center at Main Street and Ventura Avenue, will serve the Avenue neighborhood on the city’s west end.
It is scheduled to open in July, with two officers working out of the donated retail space, using it as a base for patrols or undercover operations.
“Many of the people have complained to me for years about feeling abandoned,” said Ventura Police Officer Jim Cubitt, a 24-year veteran who worked 16 years on the Avenue. “This will open up trust and communications.”
The idea behind a storefront police substation is that residents and police will trust each other and work together to decide the best ways to fight crime.
The concept was introduced on a large scale in Houston about a decade ago, and has been credited with reducing crime in neighborhoods nationwide where repeated police visits were not making a difference.
Cubitt, who helped obtain the donated retail space, said a storefront will make Avenue residents feel more at ease in approaching police officers with their problems. It will have a more informal atmosphere than police headquarters and officers will encourage residents to drop in.
“When you walk in there, it will look more like a friendly dentist’s office than a police station,” Cubitt said.
Avenue residents hailed the decision, but said some of the Avenue’s social problems cannot be dealt with just by putting more police officers in their neighborhood.
“I think it can only have a positive effect on the community,” said Roberta Payan, director of Westpark, Ventura Avenue’s recreation center. “It’s not going to put food on the table, it’s not going to give Jim Bob a job, but it’s a start.”
Residents said they want a closer relationship with police officers and welcomed the added feeling of security of seeing more patrol cars in the area.
“The more in the neighborhood, the better,” said Greg Ford, who has lived on the Avenue for nearly 10 years.
Patty Kellerman, who has been an Avenue resident for 18 years, said the station might spur more residents to take an active interest in trying to solve the problems in their community.
“We need to do our part,” Kellerman said. “We need to take care of the front yards, the streets. The police can’t do everything.”
The Avenue has historically been troubled by gang problems and drug dealing, police said. In recent months, residents were plagued by a series of nighttime shooting sprees that caused police to conduct several raids in the area.
When angry residents met with Mayor Tom Buford and other city officials earlier this month, they implored their neighbors and police to help revitalize the community. It was at that meeting that Ventura Police Chief Richard Thomas announced the storefront would be opened.
Although some Avenue residents questioned why the substation is not more centrally located instead of at the end of the Avenue, Cubitt said he wanted a facility that had parking, lighting and easily accessible by several streets.
Cubitt said police officials have been negotiating for months to get the space from Dermot Property Associates, a Del Mar-based real estate investment partnership that owns most of the Vons shopping center. Dermot officials said they hope the increased police presence will also make shoppers feel safe and lure more customers to the center.
For $1 a year, the company will lease the 900-square-foot property to police, who are hoping that Avenue residents will come forward to help with tenant improvements. Furniture, carpeting and paint for walls will have to come from the community, Cubitt said. Trained volunteers will eventually help police officers operate the storefront, he said.
“This is not part of traditional policing,” Cubitt said. “It’s part of community policing, where the community accepts some of the responsibilities for the problems in the community.”
The Avenue storefront will be the second substation in the city. Police in March opened a storefront in Montalvo, which serves that neighborhood and the city’s east end.