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Program helps business prevent crimes

Sheriff’s Station shows local companies, stores how to avoid being victimized

Posted: August 16, 2008 8:55 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
It’s a program that educates human resource managers on ways to reduce workplace violence. It’s an outreach initiative that represents the first time law enforcement and private businesses have teamed up in the name of crime prevention. And it’s a program designed to give Santa Clarita Valley businesses the opportunity to network with each other, the city and the SCV Sheriff’s Station.

For the past year, the Business Alliance Program has kept an eye on the valley’s business community and, over that period, has been the reason for many success stories.

A major aspect of the program has been the monthly classes, which bring in experts to teach employers and their employees about crime prevention, said Sgt. A.J. Rotella, who oversees the program.

“The monthly education classes are very well-attended,” he said, adding that one class involved 72 people.
For example, Rotella said one session was led by a special agent from the FBI who addressed banks about credit fraud and bank robberies.

The next class will be held Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. at the SCV Chamber of Commerce office. The session will discuss crime prevention through environmental design.

As a whole, Rotella estimates that 400 businesses and 600 individuals have participated in the past year’s classes.

With an estimated 9,000 businesses in 12 square miles, Rotella said the classes will vary to target a specific industry. Without business taxes, Rotella said it is hard to gauge how many businesses really are in the city.

Along with the classes, Rotella is working on a new program that would downsize the number of false alarms deputies respond to.

With an estimated 8,000 false alarms each year, Rotella said each incident “taxes our resources” and can be prevented through education.

Additionally, Rotella said the station is ready to launch another initiative in September that will allow the station to monitor businesses.

If private companies have Web-based security cameras, Rotella said the dispatch office at the station would be able to monitor activity.

That means if an alarm sounds at a company, the sheriff’s response time would improve significantly through their monitoring abilities.

Rotella is also putting the “final touches” on an online “crime prevention resource center” at the sheriff’s Web site that would include pages of basic crime prevention tactics for businesses. The information, which should be online next month, would range from how to spot counterfeit money to how to prevent check fraud and even how to keep parking lots safe.

Success stories
While the program may be one year old and still growing, the message of the alliance has not fallen on deaf ears.

In June, a manager from Parkway, a Valencia auto dealership, became suspicious about a check and contacted Rotella. His vigilance led to a handful of arrests that were made in connection with an auto theft ring.

Earlier in the year, Rotella said a manager from the clothing retailer Banana Republic was able to aid deputies about an organized retail crime ring.

Mac Middleton, controller for Frontier Toyota, has greatly benefited from the alliance.

“The sheriff’s department has been enormously helpful, specifically AJ,” he said. “He’s a huge asset to the sheriff’s and by extension, to the business community.”

Middleton said two classes have been held for auto dealers, which he called “extremely helpful.”

Elizabeth Hopp, senior vice president for Bank of Santa Clarita, is also thankful for the program.
She said a number of staff members have attended the classes.

“Just the fact that the sheriff’s department has done such an excellent job in outreach to the business community really goes a long way to keep us such a safe community,” she said.

Hopp said Bank of Santa Clarita has been working with Rotella to develop a dress code for clients who visit Santa Clarita Valley banks.

Banks would place a sign on their doors, asking that customers remove any helmets, hooded sweatshirts or dark glasses before coming into the bank. The code would be a way to keep bank clients, tellers and other employees safe.

With the help of the alliance, Hopp said creating a dress code for clients becomes “an acceptable practice in the entire valley.”

Another benefit Rotella has seen is the ability for businesses to network with each other and share information.

“Everyone’s watching out for each other,” he said.

Evolution
Rotella was inspired to start the program after working for the sheriff’s station in West Hollywood. The idea then was to establish a communications database since much of the businesses experience similar problems.

The program was able to become a reality under the leadership of Captain Anthony La Berge, who Rotella had previously worked for at another station.

“It’s important to keep the business community safe and crime-free,” Rotella said.

With the city’s “proactive support of the business community,” the alliance grew strong.

Jason Crawford, economic development manager for the city, has watched the program develop with Rotella.

Over the past year, Crawford said the program has established a “real presence” in the community.

Through the partnership, Crawford said the city is responsible for funding the business alliance program.
“The business community is very important to the city of Santa Clarita,” he said.

But other counties and cities are catching on to the potential of the program.

Rotella said the city of Burbank will be hosting its own identity theft workshop for its community. Ventura County has also expressed interest in establishing the program in its area.

But ultimately, Rotella believes a major factor of the program’s success will be business participation and the desire to prevent crime and remain informed.

“If we don’t know what is happening, we can’t prevent it,” Rotella said.

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