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Area Bank Holdups Spur Creation of Joint Task Force

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the wake of seven holdups in little more than a month, city, bank and law enforcement officials established a joint task force Friday to find ways to stop the wave of robberies in the Conejo Valley.

Officials said solutions could range from asking the Sheriff’s Department to evaluate each bank’s security measures, to more ambitious proposals, such as setting up instant communication links between local banks via phone trees and creating a special bank liaison with law enforcement.

“There’s no one single fix,” Thousand Oaks Police Cmdr. Kathryn Kemp said. “When you put three or four things together, these can bring a change.”

The meeting was attended by officials from Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, local banks and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. The FBI was not invited because it is involved more with apprehension of robbers than crime prevention, Kemp said.

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The task force is the brainchild of Thousand Oaks Councilman Andy Fox, who said he was motivated by the recent robberies. The latest was Thursday at Hawthorne Savings and Loan on Westlake Boulevard, which also was robbed last month.

“We agreed to have an ongoing task force that would look not only at short-term but long-term solutions,” Fox said. “It appeared evident more communication with the bank industry was necessary.”

One potential reason for the surge in robberies, law enforcement officials said at the private City Hall meeting, is the close proximity of banks to the Ventura Freeway, which provides a quick escape route.

Also, they said, Thousand Oaks’ reputation as one of the safest cities in the nation may have caused residents and businesses to become complacent about security.

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Kemp cited the example of a Wells Fargo bank at 140 Thousand Oaks Blvd., near Moorpark Road, which installed bulletproof barriers at teller windows after being robbed in 1998. It hasn’t been robbed since.

Meanwhile, another area Wells Fargo bank was targeted Feb. 23 in a takeover-style robbery. The suspects were apprehended after a car chase ended in Ventura. None of the other robbers have been arrested.

Ironically, Kemp told participants, statistics show over the past four years the Conejo Valley had recorded an overall decrease in bank robberies--until February.

Officials said they want to tackle the problem. Thousand Oaks officials are taking the names of bank officials who want to become involved in the task force. No date has been set on when the task force will next meet.

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Kevin Jillison, executive vice president of California Oaks State Bank, who attended Friday’s meeting, warned that improvements might not be seen for months.

“This is going to take time for us to look at what banks, law enforcement and city officials can do to coordinate efforts,” he said. “Everyone is interested in meeting on a regular basis to see how to improve the lines of communication.”


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