Ojai House packed for meeting
on police oversight
by C.A. Gilman
Despite the brisk weather, speakers and listeners filled the
terrace of the Ojai House on North Montgomery Street Wednesday
evening to hear about a proposed independent police oversight
commission to examine police behavior and over-enforcement.
Sarra Jubinville, who spearheaded the event, said, "The
city of Ojai has a budget of $5.6 million; $1.7 million or 33
percent of this budget goes to the police. We have too many police
patrolling our streets."
Jubinville had not invited the police because she had feared
their presence would hinder people from coming forward with their
stories. She said that she been getting phone calls from people
in the city and unincorporated areas too.
Christopher Columbus, one of the event's organizers, and Meg
Goodwin, owner of Ojai House, had asked Ojai Chief of Police
Gary Pentis to attend in order that he be aware of what the complaints
were and address their issues. Three other off-duty police were
also in the audience.
Pentis said, "No police officers are here on duty like a
spy network. We are here because we are part of the community
and we care about this community. If a citizen feels the police
have mistreated him, he can call the station and their complaint
is written up. Sometimes the complaint is from misunderstanding
and miscommunication and all it takes is a phone call."
If the matter is more serious, Pentis said a supervisor will
interview the person, deputy, any witnesses, and investigate
the scene, if necessary, to issue a finding that is shared with
the complaining party.
"When there are complaints that I don't think should be
handled in-house because of potential controversy, I'll send
it to Ventura to the Internal Affairs Division which will do
a similar investigation but with someone from the outside. Then
they will contact the citizen with those results and resolutions.
"If they are not happy with that, then they can come to
the City Council."
Pentis said he thought that putting together a commission was
a waste of money and staff.
He added, "I agree there are times we could use better communications
- on both sides. I was insulted that I was uninvited to this
meeting." (Jubenville had reportedly called Pentis to ask
him not to come after Columbus and Goodwin's invitation.)
City Councilmember Rae Hanstad invited people to call her if
they have a complaint, whether or not they live within the city
Between sipping cups of hot coffee to fight off the evening chill,
a number of the audience rose to speak.
Mark Andrizzi said, "I expect officers to hold the same
rigor with keeping the driving laws as we do. That means stopping
at stoplights, not parking on sidewalks, signaling when turning,
A man named Omar said he had been ticketed for spitting on the
sidewalk. Most cities have an anti-spit law. He and a few others
said they felt that they were stopped more frequently because
of their skin color or their baggy clothes.
Bob Daddi, an Ojai insurance agent, said, "In 1997 there
were 1,887 traffic tickets issued in Ojai. Last year there were
558. 111 people were injured in the city because of traffic violations.
Are we really over-enforced? We are the fifth-worse traffic violation
city of our size in the state. If we don't like the rules, we
need to go to the city."
Michael Kaufer said, "It's an environmental issue. Ojai
is a peaceful town with low crime rate. The number of police
cars is affecting the environment. We need to have our own village
Ojai's police force is part of the Ventura County Sheriff's department,
and is contracted to provide law enforcement by the city. Pentis
said the city has two 24-hour seven-day a week patrol cars and
two deputies on duty at all time. They are backed up with 50
percent of Pentis's time and 50 percent of another detective.
There is one deputy for 40-hour per week motorcycle officer and
one part-time traffic cadet on 20 hours a week. There is also
one 40-hour per week dispatcher. After she leaves, all calls
are sent to Ventura.
Pentis said, "It is a misperception about Ojai being a training
center for the county. With attrition of our senior officers,
we've had younger deputies in all our cities. Of the 40 personnel
in our station, 17 live in the valley. Police should be a reflection
of the community. We have different problems here than we have
in Thousand Oaks or Camarillo. I also agree that we should be
held to a higher standard than we are. We're in a fish bowl.
I expect them to hold themselves to this standard. We also have
to remember, we're all human. We all get black and white fever.
And we do need better communication."
Police statistics on drug arrests in Ojai are the highest in
the county; there is also a lot of domestic violence in the valley.
Someone asked what their rights were when they are stopped by
Pentis answered, "The only way your car can be searched
is if you give your consent, or they see something in the car
that looks suspicious, or you are on probation. The police need
to have probable cause to search you or your car. If they don't
have probable cause, this is a violation of your civil rights."
There was a sign-up sheet for those interested in joining the
committee for the Police Oversight Commission.
2002 The Ojai Valley News
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