Cohort Reflections


Community Engagement in Public Safety

Marleen Canniff

Human Services Agency, Communications Manager - County of Ventura

I have no doubt that Cohort XXVIII’s recent session visiting the Todd Road Jail facility and the City of Ventura Police Department left positive impressions and maybe even gave us all a new perspective on public safety and policing in Ventura County. All too often and especially nowadays, the police get a bad rap. Problems tend to become theirs by default, like homelessness and the mental health crisis. It’s complicated. For example, we’ve all heard the recent move to send behavioral health workers instead of police as first responders to assist people in mental crisis, but if the person in crisis is a public safety concern, the consensus is to have police create a safe scene before social workers can intervene. And concerns go beyond that, like whether the social workers represent the populations being served, where would accountability lie for diversity, equity and inclusion in this framework, and more.

Volunteering my time on the board of the Santa Paula Police & K9 Foundation for more than a decade, I’ve led efforts to mitigate the negative effects of public rants to defund the police and have worked with local partners to help improve community-police relations and to build morale among our officers. With all this vested interest and involvement, I was surprised how much I still learned at this session.

I didn’t realize the level of care the Ventura County Sheriff's Office is putting in to reduce recidivism at the jails by providing a therapeutic approach to services for inmates with mental health needs. They genuinely show compassion. They even have a therapeutic K9 to offer support to inmates suffering from trauma or mental illness or if they’re just having a bad day. I also didn’t realize that inmates with mental health issues continue to double in size many times over, mostly due to fentanyl use. The drug is so prevalent that the Sheriff’s Office trains staff and inmates alike on how to administer Narcan and has the medication available in every wing of the jail.

When asked what individual community members can do to work together to support public safety, Sheriff Fryhoff said simply, “If you see something, say something.” Assistant Sheriff Shane Matthews added that if folks don’t understand how a situation occurred, before posting a negative comment about the police on social media they should reach out to the VCSO to talk with an officer and ask questions about the incident.

This pull toward community involvement and engagement was echoed by City of Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler and City of Simi Valley Police Chief “Steve” Shorts, as they discussed the need for the entire community—individuals and organizations—to together work to solve the problem of homelessness. They shared the view that the police do not own this problem, and they can’t solve it on their own: It will take all of us working together.

Presentations by founder of Rabiah at Law Rabiah Rahman, Ventura County Public Defender Claudia Bautista, and YMCA Executive Director Amy Bailey Jurewicz shared what it looks like to work together—from giving people with fewer opportunities a chance to giving kids and their parents a place to be engaged through a community system of support.

By promoting leadership, broadening awareness, and connecting us to community leaders who are shaping our county today, VCLA’s mission is true. Each session has created new opportunities for us all to engage with diverse networks of awesome leaders while also showing how we all have a place in contributing to the betterment of our community.

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