Department History

A brief overview of Oxnard PD's history

The history of the Oxnard Police Department parallels the growth of the City of Oxnard. In 1897, Albert Maulhardt invited Henry and Robert Oxnard of San Francisco to look into the possibility of building a sugar beet factory in this area, which at the time was known as Bayard. The town site was defined as Wooley Road on the south to Magnolia Boulevard on the north; from Saviers Road on the east to "F" Street on the west. The streets, all 80-feet wide, were named alphabetically north-south, and numbered east-west. The majority of the 1,500 residents of this community resided on the R.J. Hill property, where Oxnard Boulevard, Saviers Road, and Wooley Road all converge - now known as Five Points.

The sugar beet factory was built, and the population of this area swelled rapidly. The Oxnard brothers, who also had a very successful sugar beet factory in Chino, California, returned to San Francisco after having never resided in this community. A Civil War veteran, Major A.J. Driffill, was installed as the president of the sugar beet factory. The sugar beet factory at one time was the second largest producer in the United States.

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In June 1903, at the elegant ($9,400 to build) Cottage Hotel at Fourth Street and "A" Street, the final incorporation vote was held. By the margin of 283 yeas and 13 nays, the City incorporated. At the third City Council meeting held on July 14, 1903, Samuel P. Rowe was appointed the City Marshal at $98 a month. City ordinances shortly followed, such as the prohibitions against:

  • Riding bicycles on sidewalks

  • Carrying concealed weapons

  • Public drunkenness

  • Curfew: children under 16 years must be home by 10:00 p.m.

On July 21, 1903 William Crawford was hired as Oxnard's first "night watchman" (police officer) for $70 per month. Mr. Crawford resigned for unknown reasons on April 20, 1904.

On January 5, 1904, Samuel Rowe resigned as City Marshal (Police Chief), indicating he wanted a more private life. William Reno succeeded him as City Marshal a week later, on January 12, 1904.

Officers hired to work with Reno included Andrew M. McNaughton, J.M. Crawford, and T.J. Weldon. The officers were paid about $75 per month. It was during Reno's tenure that the first Oxnard Police Officer was killed in the line of duty. On March 23, 1906, night watchman McNaughton was walking through the China Alley area (downtown), and was later found shot to death. Unable to hire more officers, Marshal Reno resigned in 1907. The suspect in the McNaughton killing was apprehended in 1909.

On November 27, 1908, the first prisoner in Oxnard's new jail was James R. Mulvany, an ex-convict wanted for horse stealing in Bakersfield. The first patrol car was purchased in 1916. The 1917 photo of Oxnard's police force standing at Plaza Park (with the famous Oxnard Plaza Park pagoda in the background) is the earliest known group picture of Oxnard's law enforcers. About the same time, Constable Earl Colby had his portrait taken.

During the first few years of existence, the Police Department was located in the Carnegie Building, which also served as City Hall and the City morgue. The Police Department moved to the area of 2nd Street and "A" Street in the 1920's.

In the 1930's and '40's the Police Department was located in the 700 block of South "A" Street (where Garcia's Mortuary is currently located). In 1952, the Police Department moved into the County building at 210 South "B" Street. In October of 1977, the Department moved to its current location at 251 South "C" Street.

Under Chief Robert Owens led the department from 1970-1992. During his time as Chief, the Oxnard Police Department implemented community oriented policing practices that grew and flourished. Chief Harold Hurtt, who came from the Phoenix Police Department, followed Owen's lead as he served from 1992-1998. Under his tenure, Oxnard Police opened two police storefronts and several drop-in centers. Department personnel and volunteer staff maintained these storefronts and drop-in centers. Police services were made to residents in their own neighborhood through these storefronts, rather than requiring them to go all the way to the police station. A weekly crime prevention television program titled StreetBeat kept residents informed about crime in the city, and offered crime prevention tips to residents. This television program was replicated by more than 50 other police departments across the nation in following years. Neighborhood watch groups patrolled regularly. A telemarketing computer was utilized to notify residents about crime patterns in their respective neighborhoods and the Department has established its own home page on the World Wide Web.

Oxnard made national headlines on December 2, 1993, when a heavily armed gunman entered the Employment Development Department on North "C" Street and opened fire. During a rampage that continued towards Ventura, four people were killed, including Oxnard Detective Jim O'Brien. Four others were wounded. The gunman was neutralized by Oxnard officers as he attempted to enter Ventura's EDD office.

Oxnard's efforts received national recognition on many positive notes. News stories on NBC Nightly News, ABC'sPrimeTime Live with Sam Donaldson, CNN, and a documentary titled Victory Over Violence by Walter Cronkite were reported in these years. These stories all have one common theme - the Oxnard Police Department's innovative approach to law enforcement.

Art Lopez, who had served with the Los Angeles Police Department, was Oxnard's Police Chief from 1998-2005. The Chiefs who followed were John Crombach (2005-2010), and Jeri Williams (2011-2016), who like Chief Hurtt, served as an assistant chief in Phoenix before coming to Oxnard. Williams, Oxnard's 21st Police Chief, was its first woman to hold the title.

In testimony favorable to community policing strategies, it is important to note that Oxnard's downward crime rate trend lasted for twenty years.

OXNARD POLICE DEPARTMENT TODAY

Today, under the leadership of Police Chief Jason Benites (sworn in as Oxnard's 22nd police chief in December of 2020), the Oxnard Police Department employs 238 sworn officers and 118 civilian support personnel. The Department continues to embrace a community-based policing philosophy, and also promotes prevention and intervention strategies in policing the city. The department has stated its priorities to the public: improve community safety, promote community engagement, and develop and maintain a culture of success. Crime has been on the decline since 2016.

Oxnard has been recognized a great deal in past and recent years by a variety of groups and organizations. The National League of Cities and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have both recognized Oxnard as having one of the most innovative police departments in the country. The Oxnard Police Department also received the prestigious James Q. Wilson Award in 2008 and again in 2018 for excellence in community policing.