T.O. Firms Volunteer Employees to Train for
Rolling Crime Watch
by Carol Bidwell
Daily News Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS - Merry Maids, Domino's Pizza and Thousand Oaks Cab Co. are among about 30 firms with fleets of vehicles that began training this week to battle misdeeds as cogs in a rolling crime watch.

Joseph Paticca, a driver for Thousand oaks Cab Co., displays a mobile Neighborhood Watch sign.  Photo by Tina Gerson/Daily News

Deputies met with Mobile Crime Watch volunteers Wednesday night and additional on-site training sessions are scheduled for large firms, such as utility companies, said Senior Deputy Patti Dreyer, a crime prevention officer.

"I think it's going to be a real effective program," Dreyer said.  "There's not enough police officers to be everywhere in this city all the time.  The more eyes and ears we have out there reporting crime, the better opportunity we will have to curtail it."

The Mobile Crime Watch will be staffed by volunteers who travel within the city in the course of their business and who have direct contract with their offices and police agencies via cellular phone or two-way radio, Dreyer said.

Participating vehicles can sport a magnetic sign on the driver's side door with the Neighborhood Watch symbol of a crook in a hat and overcoat bisected by a red line.  The sign warns: "The driver of this vehicle will immediately report suspicious behavior to the Thousand Oaks Police Department."

Gary Koppenjan, a Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce staff member who is helping to organize the crime-fighting program, said local businesses have been enthusiastic about the idea.

'"We've had 100 or so people tell us they want to participate," he said.  "They represent all kinds of businesses."

Participants include a maid and housecleaning service, a private investigator, several real-estate sellers, landscapers, car washers and detailers, garage door installers, security services, pizza delivery drivers, construction companies, exterminator and restaurant delivery people, he said.

Lance Winslow, owner of The Car Wash Guys and a City Council candidate, first proposed the mobile patrol to the city in May.  He said he hopes his five local carwashing crews can help other firms that have promised to be extra eyes and ears for deputies.

"I don't ever want to come home and be scared in my own home," Winslow said.  "I want the criminals to be scared.   With everybody getting involved - the school bus drivers, the ice cream trucks, the catering trucks - the crooks aren't going to know who's looking out for them.   They'll have to worry about more than a deputy in a black-and-white.  I think what will happen is the crooks will get on the freeway and go someplace else."

Much of the Wednesday's training session stressed the importance of drivers being aware of what goes on along their routes so they will know when something is amiss, Dreyer said.

An unfamiliar vehicle parked in a neighborhood for several days could be a stolen car, or could be a getaway car that was used in a crime, she told the drivers.

"Basically, the bottom line is if it looks out of place to you, it probably is, so call us," she said. 

Dreyer stressed that drivers are merely to call deputies when they see crime occur.

"We told these folks they are not to try to catch the bad guys and get personally involved," Dreyer said.  "We strongly recommend nonintervention."

Cheryl Duesterhoft, owner of Thousand Oaks Cab Co. with her husband since 1972, said she is glad to participate in the program because her 26 taxi drivers have been reporting suspicious activity to police from their radio-controlled vehicles for years.  Sometimes they have been too close to crimes for comfort, she said.

"One driver witnessed a robbery at the Holiday Inn a couple of years ago and ended up having to testify in court," Duesterhoft said.  "Another time, a driver picked up a woman who had escaped from the East Valley sheriff's station.  When we found out who she was, we held her until the police got there."

She was uncertain whether her drivers would display the program's signs on their taxi doors.

"We do have a concern about the drivers' safety," Duesterhoft said.  "But we'll still participate.  All of our drivers live here and they're interested in keeping our community safe."

Reprinted from the Conejo Valley Daily News, September  16, 1994. 

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