Ventura Police Chief Aims to Take Action Against Vagrancy

Chief Ken Corney increases safety after Anthony Mele murder

By Lori Denman

Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney commented on safety measures that have been taken by the police department in response to community outcry following the murder of Anthony Mele.

Corney announced the department’s efforts and goals during the Ventura City Council meeting on July 23. Council approved numerous requests by Corney that was documented in this Citizens Journal story.

Citizens Journal interviewed Corney about the latest news on homeless vagrancy in Ventura, the recent City Council meeting that featured his presentation and other concerns of the police department.

The following is an interview between Citizens Journal and Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney.

Citizens Journal: During your last City Council presentation, you covered a lot on improving the safety of Ventura since the Anthony Mele incident. What was the outcome of that council meeting for you and the police department?

Ken Corney: We are working with City Council, as they heard the public outcry loud and clear to provide the resources to enhance our efforts.

Did you acquire what you were hoping for – from City Council?

Yes, this included some focus area patrols, camera monitoring enhancement and more. Certainly, the promenade is one of the areas but what we find is that the homeless vagrants migrate to another area sometimes. So it’s a little broader than just the promenade from Surfer’s Point to the pier. On that Monday night they gave us the resources to do it for another fiscal year.

What exactly was approved?

Council approved our many requests, which included the overtime funding for focused enhanced patrol of two officers a day, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. What we are transitioning to is what they approved in the fiscal year budget weeks before, which was that we can begin our hiring process of funding of what we call our Enhanced Focus Patrol Officers. These are full time officers that we bring on board.

Council also approved to continue to enhance those focus areas. We are also going to be augmenting our cadets. These are the employees that offer extra help and want to become police officers. It’s about 20 hours a week. This includes the video monitoring portion.

There are probably many more things that PD needs. What’s next?

Well, yes. We are a full service city and so there are many needs and challenges. I did tell council that we will be looking closely at the success and the results of this. If we have other needs, I can return to council. But this is the first stage of needs. I believed that this additional funding was reasonable to take steps to deal with the issues in the city and council responded to the police needs. 

So the areas of increased focus enhanced patrol occurs in the areas that have received a lot of calls?

Yes, high calls on crime. For instance, if we have a rash of break-ins at the Santa Clara parking structure, that may be something that we would want to focus on if we have the crime going on there. We may not get the calls until someone gets home and finds that it was broken into. So focusing on the areas of crime is key.

What if a person calls about an illegally parked RV? It’s not a crime, but if an officer is in an area, do they just stop by?

There are many different types of calls on that. There may be an oversized vehicle, a person living out of it. It depends on what kind of resources we have then. We have parking enforcement who deal with the abandoned vehicle and oversized vehicle type violations. If it’s late at night, there would most likely be an officer there. Unfortunately, there are a lot of illegally parked vehicles with the vagrancy issue.

What happened with the triage grant  that was doing to pair up a police officer with a mental health professional?

You have to talk to the county. Something happened with the funding on that. We (the police department) received an email saying that the funding was less to be expected, so they are looking for additional assistance with that. We are anxious for it to start because we think that it would be a valuable tool.

Citizens Journal received a comment by a reader on our July 23 City Council story. It read, “The police can arrest sixty people an hour, 24/7 and it doesn’t do any good unless the District Attorney follows up with prosecution and the Probation Department follows up with appropriate recommendations with emphasis on maximum separation from the community and the courts follow through with appropriate sentences with emphasis on maximum separation from the community. Do you think that telling someone they should stop committing crimes regularly and also accept programs and services or face incarceration – think that would work?”

That’s what we strive to do with our Community Intervention Court that is unique to Ventura. We work with the violators to offer them alternatives to what criminal sanctions might be coming their way.

Is the Community Intervention Court working?

Yes. You are not going to solve all the problems of the world at once. We do have a lot of successes. People graduate from this program, the Community Intervention Court, by accepting and completing a wide range of programs and/or services.

I’ve heard that it would likely help to take the two officers by the promenade out of their cars and put them on bike or foot. Is it possible to get a couple officers on bikes by the boardwalk, parking lots, pier at all times?

We do have the combination of that, including the Patrol Task Force. Our enhanced patrol work on foot and in cars. We vary our approach. But of course, responding to calls on foot takes longer. If you have someone on a bike and they get a call, they have to ride that bike all the way back to the car, and load the bike up to get going. How we patrol is about the areas that are experiencing the problem.

There’s a low barrier year round shelter opening in Oxnard and one planned for Ventura. I wrote a story on it here. What is your opinion of allowing the shelter to be “low barrier,” housing low level criminals who possibly use and also deal drugs in town?

A low barrier shelter does not require a person to be sober or work towards sobriety. For instance, do you think that the shelter should be high barrier, alike the Salvation Army’s model of not being sober upon entry, but then the requirement of having to eventually be drug-free and use services/programs?

I don’t know anything about the low barrier aspect of the shelter. And I know that Ventura is at its beginning stages right now, as far as a request for proposals. Oxnard is also not as far along as we are. I think it is way premature to be talking about until we receive the requests for proposals for moving forward. We don’t know what behaviors are going to be accepted and not. I think the terms low barrier and high barrier can mean a lot of different things. I’m not that familiar with them.

I will say that we will work with whatever provider the city ends up selecting. To make sure that the shelter does not cause increased problems and actually helps to solve some of the issues we are dealing with. I look forward to participating in the process of the shelter and seeing what problems it can solve, while at the same time understanding that it is not going to solve all the problems of homelessness or homeless vagrancy.

How many arrests are of the homeless now?

It is at about 34 percent of our total arrests are those who identify themselves as homeless. It was at about 30 percent at the time of the Aloha incident with Mele. We are receiving more calls and we also have the focused patrols also taking action when it is appropriate. We are putting more resources in to look, identify and respond to problems. I think when you are putting more resources into it, your output is going to also increase. It doesn’t mean that all they are doing is enforcing the homeless.

Is your police department discovering anything new about the homeless vagrant issue?

I don’t know if there is anything new. Yet, we are quantifying things a little deeper now. We are seeing things that we need to be aware of. The arrest is made and they are put into the criminal justice system. We are working to get a good result out of that, whether it be working with social services, drug treatment or mental health. That is important.

The other interesting thing that there is a significant number of arrests for those who have warrants – for failing to appear in court and it could be for drug offenses that they are getting released on and failing to appear on.  If somebody has a warrant, then they have not gone through the criminal justice process because they are not any closer to any kind of treatment of things in the criminal justice system, that is independent to the system.

What are the main drugs in the homeless population?

Methamphetamines is more prevalent than heroine within that population, although heroin is a widely used drug in Ventura.

Where does a person go to get help with getting off these drugs?

That is an issue with the county, they offer treatment centers.

They have to want to get help.

That’s the challenge with any type of substance abuse. That is one of the benefits to bringing them into the criminal justice system. On the fifth arrest, they may say no to treatment. On the eighth arrest, they may accept it.

Are the judges doing their jobs?

Yes. Our judges are influenced by what comes across in the criminal justice system. in the criminal justice system. We have a judge in our specialized court who works with our community intervention. It’s something that the courts agreed to do and bring forward. They have to understand the problem and they are working with us.

What challenges do judges have?

We have to work within the confines of the law. And certainly, laws like Prop 47 limited judges’ options for sanctions on criminal activity. I think, yet I can’t speak for the courts, but from where I sit, it is one of the challenges that we face in the criminal justice system. Potential sanctions can bring people to changing their lives. When there are less sanctions, there is less opportunity to bring people to that point.

Is there anything you would do in a perfect world that would help that situation, to improve the criminal justice system?

I think that those elected officials, especially at the State level, need to listen to the community’s concerns and respond appropriately to legislation that would help everyone.

I wonder if there is a town or an area that can be used as an example.

State law is state law. There are interesting correlations between rises of crimes in California and the lack of rises of crime in other areas that have not changed in any way like California has.

I understand the importance of rehabilitation and finding other ways than incarceration. But the rehabilitation centers need to be up, running and effective. That is the point that we have not reached.

What is happening with the homeless encampments? Is there a way to make sure that when they are caught, that they just don’t cruise to another part of town?

We continue to venture out across the city, both on called in reports and with self initiated patrols into the areas where we find homeless encampments. We close up the camp, clean it up and direct them to programs and services. They do go somewhere else usually.

In the long term, there are no effective sanctions for those who camp in public and prevent them from going somewhere else. It is really an effort of the social services to get the person who is living in a camp to the programs or services. There are all kinds of components creating that situation for them. From substance abuse to potentially a mental illness to lack of housing.

Does Ventura use gang injunctions?

Ventura does not have them. We use one at the Ventura County Fair for a local gang.  The fairgrounds is actually within a gang turf. So when people are coming into the fair and gang members get upset they are in Ventura and not Oxnard, we take some pretty significant steps to use an injunction for the activegang members. We also have a dress code. These are all fair policies. A person cannot show their gang tattoos or representation on their clothes. For the 12 days of the fair it is implemented. It is very different than a citywide injunction that Oxnard has.

Finally, a word of advice to our readers might be to not give money to panhandlers. There may be the possibility that that person accepting money might spend it on drugs and not food.

Yes. I would rather see people give money to programs and services that help the homeless, than give money directly to them.

 

Lori Denman has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.


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2 Responses to Ventura Police Chief Aims to Take Action Against Vagrancy

  1. William Frank August 14, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Why is it we have one legal system for law-abiding citizens and the Community Intervention Court for the homeless? Who wouldn’t prefer a lenient, non-binding court system when they commit a crime?

    Reply
  2. William Hicks August 13, 2018 at 10:59 am

    Please do not copy past failed experiments from San Francisco.

    Reply

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