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City’s ‘Safe’ Reputation Put Through Mettle Detector

Times Staff Writer

A slice of suburban bliss, Thousand Oaks has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the safest large cities in the country.

So it is not a place where one would expect to find a metal detector at City Hall or bodyguards assigned to City Council members.

Concern about the unruly and potentially violent behavior of a council candidate, however, last week prompted the City Council to approve the extra security measures.

Although the hiring of armed bodyguards was a temporary precaution that has already been discontinued, Mayor Bob Wilson Sr. said Monday he thinks that the use of a metal detector should be ongoing and that the city should consider hiring a full-time security guard for City Hall.

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“We want residents to feel safe to come down to City Hall to conduct business or to express their opinions,” he said. “This is probably a wake-up call for us.”

Councilman Ed Masry, who along with Wilson used a city-paid bodyguard for several days last week, said he no longer feels personally threatened but wants to ensure the safety of city staff.

Ventura County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Keith Parks, who acts as the city’s police chief, said at least two uniformed officers will attend two preelection candidates’ forums and Monday’s Planning Commission meeting. Deputy staffing for public meetings after the Nov. 2 election will be determined later, he said.

Councilwoman Claudia Bill-de la Pena said she thought the department could handle any potential threat but is not opposed to using metal detectors to reassure employees.

“For their peace of mind, it is important,” she said.

The extra security measures were prompted by the actions of council candidate Daniel Avila, 25, who was arrested after using a bullhorn to shout obscenities at Wilson, Masry and other candidates attending an Oct. 5 forum at Los Robles Greens Golf Course. Avila had been accused of being late to the event and was denied an opportunity to participate. He was released from jail the next morning.

But it was later, when Avila showed a local television reporter a Beretta pistol he had referred to the night of his arrest, that Wilson said the city was compelled to act.

“It’s certainly embarrassing that our city has to be subjected to this. Here I am the mayor of the ‘safest city in the nation’ and I’m walking around with a bodyguard,” said Wilson, who estimated the cost of bodyguards for him and Masry at $10,000. “But any time a man wields a 9-millimeter pistol on television, you have to take that threat seriously.”

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It was not the first time Avila has drawn attention. In July, he brought a hatchet to a Planning Commission meeting, and in September he circulated a flier supporting the assassination of President Bush and the sexual assault of Bush’s daughters.

Avila was not arrested in either of those incidents.

He said Monday that hiring guards and installing a metal detector are a waste of taxpayer money. He told council members he would accept civil restraining orders from any public official who feared him, and he offered to stay away from city events for a year if the city agreed not to file charges against him.

James Ellison, senior deputy district attorney, said Avila’s suggested bargain had no bearing on whether the district attorney would file misdemeanor charges in the incident. An arraignment hearing has been set for Nov. 9.

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