Christina Tokatlian, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Forensic Scientist and Local CODIS Administrator
Ventura County Sheriff's Office
November 8, 2018 is a day I will never forget. I remember waking up that morning to go to work and the first piece of news I heard about was the horrific Borderline shooting that took place the night before and the tragic loss of twelve innocent souls, one of whom was one of our own in the VCSO family. The weight I felt in my heart was so incredibly heavy.
I was in shock that such a tragedy could occur so close to home. The grief could be felt throughout the entire department for our fallen hero and victims. Then, as if this tragedy wasn’t enough, a fire started that afternoon and spread quickly burning our county. I left work a couple of hours early to be able to get home to my family but the 101 freeway had already been blocked. It took me four hours to get from Ventura to Thousand Oaks using Santa Rosa Road. I distinctly remember as I was sitting in my car inching slowly forward in the traffic, I was watching those bright hellish flames burn against the dark evening sky, engulfing miles of hillside and all I could think to myself was: God bless the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Ventura County Fire Department. This overwhelming appreciation and tremendous pride was exactly what I felt in today’s VCLA session on public safety.
Given the hurdles presented by this unprecedented global pandemic, it has been so inspirational to see our community leaders working together to provide us with options to continue our education. The morning started with a variety of different options of speakers including Sheriff Bill Ayub, Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff, Fire Chief Mike Lorenzen, Ventura Police Department Police Chief Darin Schindler, Lieutenant Drake Massey from CSUCI Campus Police or Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites from Oxnard Police Department. Each student was asked to pick two sessions and then the entire group would meet via Zoom in the afternoon to discuss the takeaways of the day. My day consisted of a Zoom session with Police Chief Fryhoff and an in-person session with Fire Chief Lorenzen.
The dominating theme from these discussions was positive and effective relationships. In speaking with Chief Fryhoff, the major issues facing the Conejo Valley (and even a lot of the other cities in our county) were vehicle thefts, residential burglaries, organized retail crime, and homelessness. Other citizen concerns also include providing threat assessment and active shooter training tools. Chief Fryhoff described a few of the amazing programs that he and his colleagues engage in such as working with the school district to put together a council including the school principal, a counselor, and a law enforcement officer. They help put together programs to allow children to step out of their comfort zone and understand one another in hopes of preventing bullying or other negative behavior. This also helps enlighten everyone to keep their eyes open for any signs of a possible shooting incident. Another wonderful program is Safe Passage. This program works with California Lutheran University and the Conejo Recreation and Park District to provide tutoring centers where children can go to for tutoring help or any other needs they may have. This ultimately helps guide them in a positive direction and has helped to bring the numbers of gang communities down. The greatest challenge today is finding virtual means of communication due to the pandemic and it is precisely these relationships that VCSO has built with its community and other communities that allow for such wonderful programs to be created and made available.
In speaking with Fire Chief Lorenzen, it was amazing to hear about the solid relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department in our county. Not all counties are fortunate to have this type of relationship, and it is this which has helped us through many disasters. The Fire Academy and Sheriff’s Academy share training grounds in Camarillo and they lean on each other and work in unison. Not only does the Fire Department have a solid relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, it also has a solid relationship with other county and state fire departments as well. This allows for mutual aid in times of need. The Thomas Fire was a great example of our public safety heroes coming together to help out our community. This included long hours of work and resources such as helicopters, police officers, firefighters, the Office of Emergency Services, as well as fire engines and help from neighboring counties. It is exactly this type of dedication that makes me feel safe to live in Ventura County.
The day concluded with a Zoom session with Kelly Brown (Director of 2-1-1 Ventura County), Dr. Jim Norris (IT Director for the Ventura County Fire Department), Mallory Crosby (Dispatch Supervisor for the Ventura County Fire Department), and James Joyce III (Coffee with a Black Guy). These conversations continued to drive in the point that we all have and need to establish relationships with one another to help each other in times of need. Communication and unity are the strongest tools we have to move forward together towards a successful future. I am so proud of the leadership in our county and feel honored to be able to contribute my part to its continuous improvement.