Acting captain at Lost Hills presents his action plan for Malibu

Lost Hills Sheriff Station Acting Captain Joseph Fender meets with Malibu residents in Big Rock on April 9. Contributed photo.

The acting captain of the Lost Hills Sheriff Station attended a community “meet and greet” last Saturday at the private residence of Terry Davis (Big Rock HOA president) and Andrew Weyman, and answered questions for well over an hour on his current and potential plans for handling some of Malibu’s thorniest problems — everything from the illegal Sunday “car shows” to thefts from cars parked at the beach.

Joseph Fender was gung-ho about taking action to solve ongoing law enforcement issues, believes in working closely with local business owners and the community, and likes to “think outside the box” when possible.

“The power is with the community at this point. We need eyes and ears,” Fender emphasized. “The police are the people and the people are the police. We need to band together as a community.”

One of the long-time ongoing Malibu problems, described as “surf burglaries,” is thieves breaking into surfers’ cars while they’re surfing, often very early in the morning. Fender is already taking the bull by the horns to try to solve this 30- to 40-year old problem by rescheduling the Malibu patrols. 

“I’m trying to put patrols out early in the morning, and be proactive,” he said. “The fact that this has been going on for decades wasn’t acceptable to me. I started getting detectives to do surveillance, and put some plainclothes officers in cars. I’m going to adjust the deployment. The surfers are out there at 4 to 5 a.m., so I want Malibu’s two patrol cars to be out there later in the evening and earlier in the morning when the burglaries are happening.”

One of the problems is that local surfers tend to bury their keys in the sand near one of the tires, and the thieves know that, Fender said. He also hopes that new technology might be available, where people parking at the beach can rent a tiny locker to put their car keys in, for a nominal charge.

Street racing, especially on Sundays, is another ongoing Malibu issue. Fender said that most of the street racers in both Calabasas and Malibu don’t live locally — they’re coming from other parts of LA. He said they like taking the mountain roads from Calabasas to Malibu, and then emerge onto PCH.  

“We have taken a zero-tolerance approach to racing,” Fender said. “And we’re making an impact on the ‘car show.’ It’s been an issue. I talked to every business in [Malibu Village], and none of them want the cars there. It’s too much for Cross Creek — too much traffic. We’re taking a hardline stance on it — stopping for a cup of coffee is fine, but no loitering in the parking lot. I’m trying to implore the people who go out there to stop showing up.”

He is continuing to work with the property owners to come up with additional new ideas to curb the Sunday traffic congestion. 

Fender is instituting a new Business Alliance meeting beginning on April 13 for all five cities served by the Lost Hills Sheriff Station, so they can share company policies on shoplifting and connect on organized retail theft ring information.

He also talked about the process of going from “acting captain” to, possibly, captain.

There’s been controversy over the past few years when it comes to LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s appointments for leaders of the Lost Hills Station. He angered Malibu officials in June 2020 by appointing Chuck Becerra as the new captain without consulting them; he justified his action as an “emergency appointment” in the midst of the pandemic. 

The standard process would have been for the five contract cities (Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village) to participate in interviewing and selecting a candidate for a new captain. Becerra was the candidate who ranked tenth out of 10 in the summer of 2019, when the cities last participated in selecting a new captain.

Villanueva has played musical chairs with the Lost Hills captain position since he took office in 2018. He first replaced Jennifer Seetoo, a 22-year veteran of the department who was well-liked by the community, followed by Matthew Vander Horck, the number-one pick of the five cities, who was temporarily demoted and then reassigned without notice.

Fender, who was appointed as acting captain on Feb. 25 after Becerra left to lead the Norwalk Station, said that LASD plans to once again allow the five cities to participate in an interview process and select the next captain, probably beginning the first week of May.