The California Highway Patrol is pleading with cellular phone jockeys to stop calling 911 about nonemergencies. It could be a matter of life or death someday.
Nearly 40% of the 400 or so 911 calls received by the Ventura CHP dispatch center each day are hang-ups, people testing new cell phones and others asking about road conditions or the weather, authorities said.
"The person who does have an emergency might not be able to get through," said CHP spokeswoman Lynn Renstrom.
The Ventura CHP office handles all emergency calls from cell phones in the county, while the Ventura County Sheriff's Department receives all calls from homes and businesses.
Renstrom, who's been with the CHP for 10 years, said the problem has gotten progressively worse in recent years and gets exceptionally bad during the holidays.
"At Christmas, people give phones as gifts, and people actually test them by calling 911," she said.
Crime on campus has drawn increased attention from authorities across the nation. Now, Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks said the number of reported campus crimes doubled between 1995 and 1998, from 72 to 142. But school officials say those numbers may not tell the whole story.
"I don't feel like crime has really increased," said Lynda Paige Fulford, a campus spokeswoman. "I think more people are reporting it."
Fulford said over the last four years the school has beefed up instruction it gives students on the realities of campus life when they move into residence halls.
They are taught how to report crime to dorm supervisors and campus security officials and are encouraged to do so, she said.
Fulford said the increase also may be a result of better record keeping by security officers. Prior to 1998, violations of campus liquor laws, for example, were logged in the crime statistics only when an arrest was made.
Now, any report of such a violation is listed.
Despite the rise in crime numbers, few felonies have occurred. No murders, robberies or aggravated assaults were reported between 1995 and 1998.
Thefts, such as stolen backpacks and purses, rose from 17 in 1995 to 46 in 1998, officials said, and vandalism reports went from 41 in 1995 to 74.
Burglaries went from zero in 1995 to seven in 1998. Approximately one motor-vehicle theft occurred during each of the four reporting years.
Burglars and robbers don't fancy winter work, cops say, but they always find plenty of reasons to hit the streets during the holiday season.
One of the most popular scams is going door-to-door to collect donations for charities that don't exist. Another involves posing as a delivery person to gain entry into a home.
"Crooks love the holidays as much as everyone else, but chiefly because it's an opportune time for crime," said Vicki Kinzer, a spokeswoman for the Simi Valley Police Department, one of several agencies giving safety tips to residents.
Police recommend that anyone traveling during the holidays use an automatic timer for outdoor lights, stop newspaper and mail deliveries, ask a neighbor to watch the house and park in the driveway.
Those out for the evening should leave a television or radio on, lock all windows and doors and hide wrapped gifts. Mall shoppers should avoid toting several packages at once and carrying wads of cash.
"Better to be safe than sorry," Kinzer said.
Addendum to the Crime and Punishment file: Two guys landed in this column a few months ago for allegedly starting their own get-rich-quick pyramid scam after being taken for $4,000 themselves. Now, the two Camarillo men have been sentenced, each to 240 hours of community service.
The county's probation department and a prosecutor wanted the men to serve time in jail, but a judge disagreed, noting that the crime had no victims. As would-be scammers, they moved too slowly. Turns out, their first batch of customers included two undercover cops.
Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 653-7581.