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The State of Public Safety

Nick Odenath, VCLA Cohort XXVI 

President, Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Association



I found this VCLA session of particular interest.  The focus of this session was on public safety in Ventura County.  You might be asking yourself why is this a session Nick was looking forward too since he has spent the last 19 years in public safety. Although, it is true, I have spent most of my adult life as a deputy sheriff in Ventura County and have a good sense of the work that is being done. However, what I have learned about VCLA is these sessions are not simply designed to 

educate cohort members on the general topic of the day, but rather challenge you to think about the many facets of the respective topic and how it impacts the community in which we live and serve in one respect or another.  In addition, VCLA affords cohort members the opportunity to engage with members of this community that you otherwise may not engage.  VCLA certainly did not disappoint.

The day started with the ability to choose from several of our public safety leaders in the Ventura County.  Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff, California State University Channel Islands Lieutenant Drake Massey, Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites and Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler were all options for the cohort members.  I opted to hear from CSUCI Lieutenant Massey during the morning session and VCFD Chief Lorenzen during the mid-morning session.

Given the COVID-19 restrictions, we met virtually with Lieutenant Massey.  I was interested to hear about the issues specific to campus public safety.  Lieutenant Massey explained that the campus, during normal operations, can experience an increase in population of 7,000 people on any given day.  This creates logistic challenges such as parking and response times to emergencies.  Given the geographic location of the campus, there is a constant concern for potential wildfires and the campus has experienced wildfires in the recent past.  Lieutenant Massey talked about the work being done to improve their evacuation plan and how they are using new technology to decrease the time it takes to notify staff and students of an emergency and coordinate evacuation planning.  What I found to be of most interest was CSUCI and all California State Universities’ adoption of community relations protocol.  Lieutenant Massey said the California State University system has committed to the six pillars of the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide (https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-announces-new-guidebook-21st-century-policing).  These six pillars focus on areas that are very much in discussion throughout the United States and speak to building trust between peace officers and the communities they serve.  Although this commitment is a first step, it is a step in the right direction and speaks to the essence of our role as public servants. 

We were fortunate to meet VCFD Chief Lorenzen for an outdoor in-person meeting (with masks and socially distanced, of course) at their Camarillo-based training center.  Chief Lorenzen talked about the challenges for VCFD and how they are addressing them.  Unlike peace officer agencies, VCFD has no shortage of applicants.  However, they are working on targeting a more diverse population in their recruitment efforts.  Chief Lorenzen said they are actively seeking out female applicants as well as applicants of different ethnic backgrounds.  Chief Lorenzen wants a fire agency that better reflects and relates the communities they serve.  He, along with their leadership team are actively recruiting at colleges, universities and CrossFit gyms in the region.  As a result, they are starting to see an increase in diversity among applicants.  Chief Lorenzen addressed the issue of wellness among those employed with VCFD.  He said that nationwide, an alarming trend has developed.  There are more firefighters committing suicide than dying in the line of duty.  Chief Lorenzen and his staff have worked to develop a wellness plan to address this trend within the agency, including having resources such as a peer support team, training specifically regarding first responder wellness and education regarding the signs of post-traumatic stress injury.

After our lunch break, we reconvened as a cohort virtually.  Each member of the cohort was able to offer some of their takeaways from their respective morning public safety sessions with our public safety leaders.  I find these opportunities to share our takeaways important.  Another special part about VCLA is the diverse backgrounds we bring to the discussion.  I find it refreshing to hear from each of my fellow cohort members on their perspective and takeaways.  It allows me to see issues from a different lens.  To be clear, we do have a special cohort, I mean we are “Virtually the Best” if not the best cohort (yes, I am bias)! 

During the afternoon session, we had an opportunity to hear from our public safety members that are often forgotten, our dispatchers.  Specifically, we heard from Kelly Brown, Director of 2-1-1 Ventura County, Interface Children and Family Services, Dr. Jim Norris, IT Director, Ventura County Fire Department and Mallory Crosby, Dispatch Supervisor, Ventura County Fire Department.  Kelly shared how COVID-19 and the restrictions have really changed the landscape for 2-1-1.  Kelly said those calling the center are often in need of housing resources.  Given increased unemployment and the related issues, the call center has seen an increase in calls.  Kelly shared how she and her supervisors have monitored the well-being of their call takers to ensure they are taking care of themselves and also able to properly address the concerns of those calling for assistance.  Currently, the 2-1-1 handles service calls for 40 of the 58 counties in California, making it the largest such call center in California.

Dr. Jim Norris and Mallory Crosby shared their experiences managing the VCFD call center.  Dr. Norris shared some exciting work about improvements to the call center system that will allow information to be pushed to firefighters faster and more efficiently, as well as address mutual aid concerns and communication.  Mallory shared the experience of the dispatchers she supervises and how the calls they receive can be both stressful and rewarding.  Mallory said the dispatchers are often providing instructions on how to perform lifesaving CPR to family members calling during a medical emergency.  She also said many of her dispatchers have had the opportunity to coach soon-to-parents through pregnancy delivery.  Mallory described the bond of the dispatchers who work together as a team to help community members who are often calling during the worst moment in their life. 

We ended the day having “Coffee with a Black Guy” (https://www.cwabg.com/). This was the part of the session I was most interested in listening too. Community Leader James Joyce III started “Coffee with a Black Guy” a few years ago with the goal of creating a forum in which black men and women share their experiences for better community understanding. James shared historical perspective on policing in America and talked about some of the racial ideology in which American policing was based and how those ideologies still plague communities of color today. James has a unique gift of raising questions that promote discussion. What does defund the police mean? Why aren’t the police more transparent.

 

Public Safety-Working Together

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.

Reflections on a Patriots’ Day Session

Jeremey Shumaker

VCLA Cohort XXVI 

Regional Director of Operations for American Medical Response

On September 11th, 2020 the 26th cohort of the Ventura County Leadership Academy met for their first of ten sessions. The date was not lost on me nor was it on the rest of my fellow leaders. As a veteran and as a first responder, I would be remised if I did not acknowledge the tragedy of 9/11 and the sacrifices made that day by hundreds of fire fighters, polices officers and EMS professionals.
I am sure that this day was not what VCLA had envisioned but VCLA Director Pattie Braga and her team were able to come up with a COVID friendly version of the community exploration exercise. The Cohort was split into 10 groups of 3-4. Each group assigned to explore an assigned city. No rules, no specific guidance on what to do or how to do it. We were told that we “must visit your city together on Friday, wherever you want, doing whatever you want”. We were encouraged to reach out and use our network to schedule meetings or gain insight.
From socially distanced coffee with Mayor Flynn of Oxnard to a walking tour of downtown Ojai, to an extended trip to the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks. Each team took a different approach and focused on different aspects of their assigned city. We learned about Port Hueneme which means “Resting Place” and all took pride in the fact that we can pronounce it correctly. We learned about the efforts Santa Paula has taken to ensure the small businesses in their city are able to survive through COVID. We learned about all levels of the education system, sales taxes, and the effects of sugar free candy on your digestive system.
Normally, when the world is not experiencing a pandemic, the entire cohort would come together at the end of the day to share what they learned. This year, as you know, is different. We came together virtually which I am certain will be a theme for cohort 26 at least for the foreseeable future. Pattie and the curriculum committee came up with a brilliant way for us to learn even more about the County with a friendly game of Jeopardy based on the most recent State of the County report released by the Ventura County Civic Alliance. A game, I might also add, that I ALMOST won.
Session 1 was an exciting and fun way to start off what will be an incredible year. I am honored to have been selected to participate in VCLA and I cannot wait to see what the coming months have in store. I joined VCLA because I wanted to learn more about the County that I call home. I wanted to learn more about the issues the County is facing and what others are doing to address those issues. I wanted to learn more about what I could do to contribute to those efforts. Last weeks session taught me that there are countless people who are making a difference for others every day. I felt inspired and motivated to continue learning and I cannot wait for next months session!

December 20, 2019

Cityscapes

City Adventures

For session   number four, people were divided in to teams to explore assigned cities within the county. As we ventured out in the day, we reunited in Camarillo where we got to meet Dr. David El Fattal, Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Business and Administrative Services for the County Community College District. He spoke about his responsibilities and one thing that stood out was how he shared that every day was different. He could be going to Wall Street one day and the next, learning about what is the best chemicals to clean the campuses restrooms.

We also had the opportunity to learn about Coffee with a Black Guy. James Joyce III, from Cohort XVII shared about how his company came to be.   What I enjoyed was how he shared personal experiences, answered tough questions and brought a sense of hope for the future as long as we continue to have a conversation.

Highlights from the groups consisted of the following:

  • Thousand Oaks – The group visited the Parks and Recreation department, where we learned it was a special district and called Conejo Valley Parks and Recreation Department. Not only did they make sure their newest park was ADA accessible, they created special trails for walking, biking, and a lot space to be able to play disc golf.
  • Oxnard – We learned how Oxnard College is struggling financially and that 90% of their students are first generation attending college.
  • Fillmore – Two highlights we learned were that 50% of the city’s income comes from Hollywood making movies in their city and the Fire Department is the only one of its kind as having only volunteers running the department.
  • Ojai – Is the oldest city in the county and one-third of the populations are older adults.
  • Moorpark – The group visited Moorpark College and we learned it was the second college in the nation that had a class/subject on how to train exotic animals.
  • Camarillo – The team decided to visit Ventura County Community Foundation. We learned it had one million in assets and has several scholarship programs and is a wish granter for the Make a Wish foundation.
  • Port Hueneme – This team had the opportunity to meet with the Chief of Police. We learned that the city was the first to adopt legalizing marijuana. While some may think that crime increased, the Chief stated that the city had not seen any negative effects. What I found interesting that the city had no freeways, no high schools, and no bars.
  • Ventura – The team had a fun time at the Poinsettia Awards where the Ventura Chamber of Commerce hosts to celebrate the best of the best. Ranging from the best in their community, to recognizing the community leaders. We also learned that the city only promotes the city by running ads in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, England, Germany, and Canada.
  • Santa Paula – A shout out was given to Elena for helping the team plan out their fun day. This group went to the Agricultural and California museums where they learned about a bee colony to their day being filled with a lot of people named Bob.
  • Simi Valley – This group shared how the Ronald Reagan Library gets half a million visitors a year to sharing about all their open space. The open space is used for hiking as the city have 50 parks and 2 RV parks.
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