Trying to make a safe city even safer, Thousand Oaks officials and Sheriff's Department leaders are enthusiastically pushing community-based policing to get officers to work more closely with residents and merchants in troubled neighborhoods.
At tonight's City Council meeting, Councilwoman Elois Zeanah and East County Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Kathy Kemp plan to give glowing reports on a community policing seminar they attended last month in Clovis, a suburb of Fresno.
And on Feb. 1, one of the early innovators of the concept, Mark Kroeker a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department, is coming to Thousand Oaks to give a two-hour presentation on community policing.
Kroeker, who started with the LAPD in 1965, was responsible for implementing a community-oriented policing approach in the San Fernando Valley. After the 1992 riots, Kroeker was transferred to the department's South Bureau to develop a similar program there.
Community policing has become popular nationally and locally, with programs in Oxnard, Ventura and Fillmore credited with lowering crime rates in recent years.
And in Thousand Oaks, a city known for its low crime rates, community policing has long been an informal policy, with merchants and residents alike keeping a hawklike eye out for crime. There is general agreement that the more citizen participation, the better.
"In a way, community policing is a return to what I think policing was sometime ago in our nation where everyone knew the neighborhood cop and it was a more personal type of approach," Mayor Jaime Zukowski said.
"In these times of limited funds we can't always have more police officers. But what we can do is have more volunteers and take a more holistic approach to law enforcement," she added.
Kemp said her department is stepping up its commitment to community-based policing.
"We've had a concept for a long time," Kemp said. "But what we haven't done is give a strong emphasis to having a beat officer with a strong partnership with the citizenship."
With that in mind, she said, two officers will be reassigned as community resource officers at the end of March. Their primary function will be to handle problem areas of the city with a pro-active rather than reactive approach.
They will coordinate with probation officers, neighborhood watch groups, social services groups and schools to handle problems in the community before they escalate.
"Many times the things that we respond to in neighborhoods are not criminal," Kemp said. "Maybe there is a house that is run-down or shabby, that is attracting graffiti. If we can work with the community and various resources, maybe we can get that problem resolved."
A group of 20 citizens will begin training for the Volunteers in Policing program in late February, she said. When they complete the program they will be outfitted with uniforms and patrol cars and authorized to handle many of the non-confrontational duties of police officers.
In the past, community-based policing efforts in one of Thousand Oaks' poorest neighborhoods, Las Casitas, helped cut crime considerably, said Councilwoman Elois Zeanah.
"There has been a marked improvement," she said. "But we still have some wrinkles that can be ironed out."
Just because Thousand Oaks was named the second safest city of its size in an FBI report last year does not mean the city should be satisfied, she added. As the city grows and ages, more problems are likely to occur, Zeanah said.
"We should be very thankful that we live somewhere so safe," Zeanah said. "But if that is used as a crutch, we are asking for trouble."