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Thousand Oaks Safest Large City in U.S. : Rankings: FBI figures show Simi Valley is third most crime-free municipality, based on rate of serious incidents.

December 17, 1995|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousand Oaks ranked as the safest large city in the United States and Simi Valley was the third-safest during the first half of 1995, according to figures released today by the FBI.

In the battle for bragging rights, Thousand Oaks narrowly bumped Amherst Town, N.Y., from its perch as the nation's most crime-free city with a population of more than 100,000.

"Outstanding," said Thousand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox. "We are grateful we are No. 1. Public safety is a high priority here. It's something that we work at."

From January through June, Thousand Oaks reported 12.5 crimes per 1,000 residents, with Amherst Town, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., reporting a 12.9 crime rate.

Sheriff's Cmdr. Kathy Kemp, who oversees police protection of Thousand Oaks, said she is pleased to see that all of the city's crime statistics except for thefts from motor vehicles went down.

Car phones, stereos and CD players have become attractive targets for thieves, she said. "We are trying to educate the people that they have to be just as protective about their vehicles as their homes."

Simi Valley's crime rate edged up to 15.4 serious crimes per 1,000 residents, but not enough to slip from its third place in the national rankings.

The California cities of Sunnyvale, Santa Clarita and Irvine remained in fourth, fifth and sixth--the places they held in the lineup of safe cities during all of last year.

The rankings are based on a ratio of city population to crime in eight categories--murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

Oxnard reported 4,114 crimes during the first six months of 1995, continuing a three-year decline in reported crime. The latest figures translate to 27.9 crimes per 1,000 residents, a rate much better than the average for 186 cities included in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

The biggest drops in Oxnard were seen in burglaries and car thefts, although rapes jumped from 13 during the first half of 1994 to 31 during the same six-month period in 1995.

Oxnard Police Chief Harold Hurtt attributed the increase in rapes to better reporting from victims and tougher prosecution of domestic and sexual violence in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial.

"We have adopted a very aggressive protocol for domestic violence and sexual assaults," he said.

As for the overall decrease in crime, Hurtt and other officials credit their community-based policing practices, such as scheduling officers to work the same beats and the same shifts to get to know certain neighborhoods.

During the last three years, they said, these beat officers have effectively enlisted the assistance of residents to combat crime and have become familiar with the patterns of criminals who live or work these areas.

"We have gotten the people, the citizens, to help identify the criminals in the area," said Cmdr. Ken Nishihara.

Community-based policing and strong neighborhood participation were also linked with the excellent crime report cards in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.

"The community is the eyes and ears of the police department," said Simi Valley Police Chief Randy G. Adams. "This community-policing effort has swept the nation."

Indeed, U.S. Justice Department officials also credited community policing with the the 1% decrease in serious crime reported nationwide during the first half of this year.

"From Lowell, Massachusetts, to San Diego, California, I have seen over and over again entire neighborhoods changed by the work of additional community policing officers," said Joseph H. Brann, director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

"Men and women on the beat, working with families and local leaders to prevent crime, are getting results," he said.

Violent crime was down 5% nationwide during the first half of the year, while the level of property crimes showed no change. But the nation's top law enforcement officials remain concerned about what they see as an alarming trend of violent crimes committed by juveniles.

"It remains our great task to reduce this willingness of all too many of our youth to commit violence," FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said in releasing the report on big city crime.

Ventura became the county's fourth city to exceed 100,000 population this year and thus qualifies as a large city in the FBI's definition. But the FBI has not yet incorporated Ventura into its report.

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