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State Grant Will Assist the Fight Against Youth Crime

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Armed with a $348,000 state grant, city police are teaming up with the County Probation Department and an array of community organizations to curb juvenile crime.

The 18-month grant, formally accepted by the Ventura City Council on Monday night, will be used by officials to intervene as early as possible in the lives of youths too often cornered by bad influences in their own homes and neighborhoods.

The effort will further look to steer teenagers and preteens already dabbling in crime away from more serious offenses, while intensifying supervision over the city’s most habitual and violent youthful offenders.

“The best thing that could happen is this program will be overloaded with kids,” said Police Sgt. Ken Corney.

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For officials in Ventura, which in recent weeks has seen an upswing in juvenile crime and gang activity, the timing of the grant award couldn’t be better.

“Obviously, if we can get to the kids and help them with the difficulties they’re having early on, hopefully we can lessen or limit the amount of major problems that we have later on,” said Ventura Mayor Jim Friedman.

The grant money will be used to hire a police officer and probation officer who will team up to focus on kids who live west of the San Jon Barranca, including the downtown and Ventura Avenue areas.

Police said the grant targets west Ventura because that is where most of the city’s youth crime and gang activity occurs.

The program will be based out of the Westside Police Storefront just off Ventura Avenue and is set to begin July 1.

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A criminal record is not the only prerequisite for participation.

Truancy, slipping grades or parents with some inkling that their kids are dabbling in drugs or gangs might be the only red flag needed to enroll a child in the program.

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“We’re trying to take some preventative actions . . . by short-stopping the paths youths take in the early years that lead them down the road to violence as they get older,” said Robbie Robinson, the Ventura Police Department analyst who wrote the grant.

Program officials say the grant will allow them to establish a clearinghouse of information, helping to refer troubled kids and their parents to any number of positive social and recreational programs available in the community.

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It might be the Ventura Police Activities League or Westpark recreational programs, substance-abuse counseling or parental support groups, family counseling or tutoring, officials say.

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“Sometimes, if you can get the right program for the right kid, your chances of success become greater,” said Calvin Remington, chief of the Ventura County Probation Department. “I think it has tremendous potential.”

The money comes through the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning, which is supporting a number of such pilot programs across the state in hopes of finding crime-fighting programs that work.

Money will also be spent hiring a part-time alcohol and drug counselor, leasing a van and supporting a 17-member Community Prevention Board, a group of public- and private-sector volunteers who will oversee the grant.

The panel also will determine what restitution a child who commits a minor or first-time offense should pay.

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“It will teach the youth that they have damaged the community, and now they need to make good or restore that wrong they committed,” Corney said. “We need the youth to realize they’re part of the city.”

Officials estimate that as many as 300 kids may become involved, referred either by schools, churches, parents, police or probation officials.


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