Crime Watch From behind the Wheel
Hoping to enlist local companies in the fight against crime, a Thousand Oaks businessman has proposed a new Neighborhood Watch program that would ask workers on the road to report crimes in progress.
The plan, presented to the Thousand Oaks City Council this week, would put cellular phones in the hands of hundreds of workers who drive around the city everyday, said Lance Winslow, the owner and operator of a mobile carwash service.
"This week I read that we have the third safest city in the United States for its size," Winslow told the council. "That's great, but I have never been satisfied with third place."
Council members referred the suggestion to a committee, but agreed that the ides of recruiting private sector workers - from plumbers to pool cleaners - has promise.
"They could be the eyes and cars of the Police Department," Councilman Frank Schillo said. "It would be people doing their civic duty."
But creating a force of cellular phone toting civilians is not new to Thousand Oaks.
Last September, local businessman Roger Pero brought the same suggestion to the council for consideration.
Despite the support of the council and the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, no one was capable of recruiting enough businesses to get the program going.
"What we were missing last time was a person who could put it all together," Schillo said. "I think (Winslow) may be able to pull this off."
Winslow, who was involved in a long battle with the city on behalf of his mobile carwash business, said the idea of a mobile Neighborhood Watch force struck him after one of his trucks was vandalized.
"I think this is a fairly safe place to live," he said. "But we should shoot for zero crime."
Local law enforcement officials said they met with Winslow about the plan and offered their support.
"We've all had a chance to look it over and we think it's a good concept," said Senior Sheriff's Deputy Patti Dreyer, an officer with the department's crime prevention bureau for Thousand Oaks.
"I think there's great value in having members of the community be aware of suspicious behavior and calling it in," Dreyer said. "We can't always be where the crime is."
Dreyer said the department agreed to meet with potential volunteers to train them how to identify crimes in progress and how to call the crimes in to the dispatcher.
Councilwoman Judy Lazar, who said she would likely support the idea if it came back to the council said she would want to ensure such training was a part of the plan.
"People have to have some training," she said. "We certainly don't want residents going around thinking they're law enforcement officials."
Winslow told the council he planned to bring the proposal back and said he may ask for $1,500 to pay for signs that volunteers would display on their vehicles. He said a cellular phone company had offered to sell phones to the group at cost if the program was initiated.
Schillo said for what the city would be getting, the price was right.
"It's the cheapest police force you could imaging," Schillo said. "Spending $1,500 to pull that off would be great for the city."
Reprinted from Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1994.