Police, other panelists reach out to stop violence
By Linda Harmon
Members of the Ojai Valley community who came together last Thursday night for the final Heal the Community meeting were treated to a positive and constructive evening.
The two-hour event highlighted speakers offering positive perspectives and recommendations for continuing to bring the valley together.
“We have to start teaching tolerance,” said Sgt. Joe Evans, Ventura County deputy sheriff, to a loud ovation from the crowd numbering more than 100. “I’ve raised two kids here myself. These kids grew up playing sports together … The divisions are coming from the adults and whether you want to believe it or not you ought to at least think about it. Whatever the solution is going to be, it’s not going to be a police solution, we all have to be on the same page.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the evening, along with suggestions for better supervision from the community as a whole, rededication to the nonprofit groups already serving youth, and the creation of new mentoring opportunities.
“I hope you leave informed and inspired to volunteer or become active in your neighborhood,” said Dusty Fernandez, a member of Heal the Community, who along with fellow members Cindy Sauceda, Bill Welch and Greg Webster organized the meetings. They plan a future fund-raising event in November for a mentoring program. “Together we can do this. Once you take the first step it gets easier,” said Fernandez.
The audience was addressed by a five-member panel composed of Ventura County Sheriff Capt. Chris Dunn, Evans, Jason Griffith of Segue Career Path Mentors, Barbara Kennedy of the Oak View Park and Resource Center, and Jim Lane, a retired Port Hueneme teacher and mentor. The discussion was moderated by Judy Bysshe, a former teacher and school administrator involved in many area nonprofit organizations.
“In every community this department serves there is gang activity,” said Dunn, in his opening remarks on community safety concerns. “But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.”
Dunn stated flatly that the department has a “zero tolerance” for gang activity and is closely monitoring all known gang members.
“There was a lot of emotion at the last meeting,” said Dunn. “People yelling out from the audience about ‘running them out of town,’ saying, ‘Why can’t you do more?’ ‘They’re illegals’ — I’d like to remind people that we have to operate within the guidelines set forth in the U.S. and California constitutions. We cannot operate like the Gestapo and run people out of town, nor would we.”
Dunn also explained the definition of a gang.
“The penal code is very specific,” said Dunn. “It is considered to be a gang if three or more individuals acting in consort commit a crime for the betterment of a group.”
Dunn added that during their investigation of the recent Meiners Oaks murder and follow-up investigations of all known valley gang members “only one was an illegal and he was deported.”
Dunn reminded listeners that officers work day in and day out on security issues and their actions may not be noticeable due to their “covert nature.”
The statistics Dunn gave, in fact, point to fewer gang crimes and a higher percentage of arrests.
“In 2007 there were 77 confirmed gang crimes and only 16 arrests,” said Dunn. “In 2008 there were 91 cases and 18 arrests, and for the first five months of 2009 there were only 16 confirmed cases and seven arrests.”
Dunn also told the audience that he has only 40 personnel to cover an area bounded roughly “by the intersection of Shell Road and Highway 33 on the northeast, up 33 past Rose Valley, up 150 northwest to the Santa Barbara County line.”
According to Dunn, with the current budget crisis threatening funding the numbers could change “and not for the better.”
“Gangs are not isolated in one section of the community,” said Dunn. “We have several gangs, in every race and social status in this community.”
Evans, in charge of the City Watch program, agreed, urging citizens to become involved in their community.
“If you see something stand up and say something,” said Evans, who reminded parents that they need to play their part in our community.
Evans then explained his City Watch program, a volunteer-based community alert program overseen by police, and said the program has already proven to reduce several types of crime.
“City Watch is an e-mail-based program begun six to nine months ago with 10 to 15 people,” said Evans. “It has grown to over 8,000 online and has been very successful in the Monte Via housing tract area in reducing vehicle burglaries.”
Evans also said City Watch’s efficient system for citizens to make reports helped reduce speeding on Park Road, and can assist in rumor control in emergency situations.
“Just give us a call at 646-1414,” urged Evans.
Next up was Kennedy who listed all the organizations in the valley, including her own Oak View Park and Resource Center, which already offer services and could use volunteers to increase their level of service to youth. The Oak View Teen Center at 640-9555, the Oak View extension of The Boys and Girls Club of Ventura at 640-9000, Oak View Library at 649-1523, Smart Start Day Care at 649-4333, the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center at 646-7559, the Art Studio at 649-1605, and the Friends of Oak View Park and Resource Center at 649-9720, all offer services and need volunteers.
“We are doing a lot of things to help youth, but we need you to help also,” said Kennedy. “We need to know what else we can do for you.”
The audience was visibly moved by speakers throughout the evening, especially by the last two.
Lane, who taught for 35 years and also coached youth sports, took the microphone to tell his story of a successful mentoring program he used.
“Teachers may choose to be mentors,” said Lane introducing his topic.
Lane spoke about his “one to one for one” technique, taking one minute a day to talk to one underachieving student on a one-on-one basis. The mentor process involves drawing out the students’ interests and relating to them as a person that matters and not just as a teacher.
In Lane’s words, “letting them know your door is always open.”
He told a story about his own mentor, a social science lecturer and single woman who had successfully raised 13 adopted children.
“She showed me techniques to use when I go to the back of the class, where the guys are just sitting and not working,” said Lane.
Lane said because of his mentor and the methods she gave him he started coming to work early, turning on the light, leaving his door open, playing some current hits, and greeting students with a handshake.
When Lane tested the one-to-one method, it only took him two weeks to reach one of his challenging students. He learned that the freshman student loved football, so he introduced him to the coach and paid for the student’s physical because his parents couldn’t afford it.
“I ran into that coach a few weeks later and asked how he was doing,” said Lane. “The coach said, ‘He loves it. He’s going to end up starting for me.’ And guess what, the next few days the homework assignments started coming in.”
Lane said besides benefitting his relationships with his students, it also helped the relationships between students; the more advanced students were inspired to get involved themselves and help their fellow classmates.
Lane said his goal that evening was to set a date to speak with Nordhoff teachers before school started.
“Mr. Lane, you have a date, Aug. 24,” said Jim Berube, interim superintendent of Ojai Unified, as he rose from the audience.
Berube was also impressed with the Segue Career Path Mentor Program introduced by Griffith, the last panelist who spoke. Griffith’s program is geared to “exposing students to successful adults in accessible careers.”
“Our career guidance program is about helping students craft a vision for themselves,” said Griffith, a Ventura High School coach. “So when they come to a fork in the road and are faced with some of life’s challenging decisions they know what direction they want to take.”
Griffith says that besides helping decrease the dropout rate and exposing at-risk youth to different career paths, the program also can help dispel some of the mystery for the already-college-bound students about what they want to do with their education.
“It is simple to implement,” said Griffith, “and takes very little time and energy of the administration and can give students an idea of all the possibilities out there.”
Griffith then handed out a short form for those interested in volunteering for the program, bringing their career experience into area classrooms.
“It takes only about two hours on campus to reach over a hundred students,” said Griffith. “Your 15-minute commitment in three classes can have profound positive consequences. Segue is an opportunity for you to find out where you can help strengthen your community.”
Berube was so impressed he committed to “working closely with the group.”
The evening was rounded out by short one-sentence descriptions of nine other nonprofit groups represented in the audience. One of those speakers was the mother of a friend of Seth Scarminach, urging all residents to take part in international Peace Day by attending a intergenerational, interfaith demonstration of peace at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 in Libbey Park.