LANCASTER – Lancaster Station Captain Bob Jonsen and Sgt. Theresa Dawson held an open and candid conversation with about a dozen residents Thursday morning as part of ‘Coffee with the Captain,’ an event aimed at bridging the gap between the Lancaster Station and the community.
Some residents brought specific problems to the captain’s attention, while other residents questioned Jonsen on broader public safety issues, like rising crime rates and the public’s perception of law enforcement.
One lady said she lived near Cedar Avenue and West Avenue J, and cars were speeding through her neighborhood at all hours of the day.
“They’re treating my street like a freeway,” the woman said, adding that she worried for the safety of youngsters playing football in the street.
“All you need to do is let us know where the problem is, and we’ll allocate the resources,” he said.
Another resident worried about the recent rise in crime.
Jonsen said crime trends were still way below where they were five years ago. He said many of the crimes reported, as of late, were lower level thefts or crimes of opportunity.
“People breaking into your car, that’s a crime of opportunity,” Jonsen said. “We’re asking residents to take the necessary precautions to secure their property.”
Jonsen said crimes of opportunity were especially prevalent in high density commercial areas, like the shopping plazas that house the two Walmarts – on Valley Central Way in west Lancaster and on 20th Street and Avenue J in east Lancaster.
He said the station had beefed up its presence in those areas recently, and now dedicated officers were working fulltime to police those zones. Jonsen said foot patrols on The Blvd were a deterrent to crime, as well. He said he would be deploying bike patrols in targeted areas throughout the City within the next two weeks.
“You’ll be seeing a lot more of us, a lot more visibility,” Jonsen said.
Lancaster resident, Marshall Dymowski, said people in his neighborhood were reluctant to report suspicious activity, because when they did, they were interrogated by deputies and made to feel like criminals themselves.
“The process seems unwelcoming,” Dymowski said. “It hasn’t deterred me, personally, but a lot of people I know said they’re just not going to bother anymore.”
“This helps us in determining your credibility about what you’re telling us,” Dawson said. “So that sometimes can feel like an interrogation, but it’s really just us establishing who’s who and the motive for your telling us.”
Jonsen said, in any case, his deputies were taught to always be respectful and to always be professional.
“If you don’t feel you are being treated with respect or there is a lack of professionalism, those are the things I want to know about,” he said. “Those are the things we can change… we can hold our own accountable and we have been doing that quite a bit over the past 12 months.”
Jonsen said the Lancaster Station had met with the Justice Department as part of the federal investigation into alleged discriminatory policing by law enforcement in the Antelope Valley. He said the Justice Department gave him some feedback, which he took to heart.
“The feedback was that we need to be more engaged in the community, because there’s a perception out there that we’re not connected…” Jonsen. “I agree there’s room for improvement, there always is, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Jonsen said respect is a two-way street, and the community had to do its part in giving deputies the necessary respect as well. He said there was a misperception that Lancaster deputies routinely used excessive force when, in reality, the station used the least amount of force in the region.
“I think it was over 400 uses of force in the last three years that this station has used,” Jonsen said. “Only about 20 of those resulted in people having to get medical treatment, that’s a small number.”
He said Lancaster handled more calls for service and arrested more people than any other station in the north region and had more than 250,000 calls for service in the last three years, yet there were only two cases where someone was shot in a pedestrian stop or a vehicle stop. Jonsen said the other three deputy-involved shootings happened during the service of a search warrant.
“So [for] a general citizen walking down the street, the probability of them being shot by a deputy sheriff is probably less likely than winning the lottery, it’s that low,” Jonsen said.
Residents who attended Thursday’s Coffee with the Captain said they were impressed by Jonsen’s candor.
“I believe his honesty in trying to really reach out and make a difference in our community,” said Antelope Valley NAACP President Juan Blanco.
“I really like what this captain is doing with the department,” said Lilia Galindo. “They are paying attention to us.”
Jonsen said he hopes to hold similar meetings in the future. The Lancaster Station’s monthly ‘Coffee with a Deputy’ meeting is held on the second Thursday of every month. A location for the May meeting has yet to be determined.