Santa Paula Times
National Night Out: Chief says community
must show it cares about crime
Published:  August 21, 2015

Showing that the community cares about crime was the message Police Chief Steve McLean said he wanted to get out at a National Night Out (NNO) event held August 4 at Veterans Community Park where a sparse crowd gathered.

He noted that among those that attended were “lots of pastors and ministers,” from local churches as well as elected officials, fire personnel and SPPD members including Explorers and volunteers.

McLean said he is jumpstarting NNO—which for several years was not held in Santa Paula—primarily because of another rise in the area’s crime rate, particularly violence, up 25 percent this year and property crimes, which have increased by 18 percent.

“The purpose tonight is to tell you about programs in Santa Paula and send a message to the community that we care,” about criminal activity.

McLean noted, “Santa Paula has been going through a very rough time,” with an increase in crime that due to Prop. 47 now in many cases is reduced to a misdemeanor. 

“Our officers are doing the best they can,” although there are only 28 full-time sworn on the force with about four on medical leave.

Noting that Mayor John Procter, Vice Mayor Martin Hernandez and Councilman Jim Tovias were in attendance, McLean said the city’s elected officials “Have tough decisions to make and there are no easy answers,” to some funding issues that could require another attempt to get voter approval of a sales tax to help fund public safety.

But there are other ways the public can help by forming Neighborhood Watch groups which McLean said, “Are better than cops on the street...people in the neighborhoods can see when a crime is committed, catch people in the act,” and the reporting of same could lead to a quick arrest.

“People ask me ‘what can you do about crime?’ and I point the finger right back at you and ask what are you going to do about crime? Public safety isn’t a police issue,” but rather said McLean, “a community issue. And we cannot arrest ourselves out of problems,” but also require intervention programs to prevent criminal activity.

The city has an active Explorers unit, Citizens Patrol and other volunteer opportunities but McLean said he is thinking about implementing a new program, “Volunteers on patrol...give them a white car,” with official markings that could be interpreted by some as a police patrol car and assign streets for regular sweeps.

Such volunteers on patrol said McLean, would be “The eyes and ears,” of police and report any suspected criminal activity.

Such volunteers he added would be required to commit their time to two to three patrol shifts each week. 

Procter said crime fighting can be a “very holistic process” relying on many factors and he noted that Reserve Sgt. Dave Curran does a “wonderful job” working with Explorers, a “Part of that big picture the chief is taking about...”

The council offers its full support to police and fire said Hernandez but still finds itself “limited” when it comes to funding. 

The public he added can and should help: “If you see somebody that’s not supposed to be there, call the police, help us create a safer community for the community.”

McLean said the epitome of volunteers are those that belong to Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula, the group that spearheaded the effort to get a 1 percent sales tax implemented to supplement public safety. The measure, which required 67 percent to pass, narrowly failed on the November ballot.

Ronda McKaig of the organization said what McLean had already noted, “How few people are here,” but those in attendance deserved recognition for their interest and concern for the well being of the community.

With 28 full-time officers Tovias said there are “56 eyes” on the community, but if all the city’s 30,000 residents were looking out for suspicious activity, “There would be 60,000 eyes...I wish more people were out here but you can get involved,” in bettering Santa Paula.

Overall the public, said McLean, is “Just as responsible for public safety as I am.”