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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Serious Crime Drops 3% Countywide

Public safety: Reporting for first six months of year, seven cities say overall offenses dropped from same period in 1999.

August 29, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite sharp increases in Thousand Oaks and Fillmore, Ventura County crime continued to fall during the first half of 2000 as seven local cities reported year-to-year reductions.

Overall, serious offenses dropped slightly from January through June, down about 3% from the first six months of 1999 without counting a sharp reduction in Oxnard, which will not release a full report until later this week.

That means crime was more than one-third lower than the county's all-time high eight years ago: There were at least 226 fewer crimes during the first half of 2000 than during the same period a year before, and more than 5,000 fewer than had been reported at midyear in 1992.

"We have our fingers crossed, because it's real hard to maintain this," said Chief Deputy Dante Honorico of the Sheriff's Department.

While the falling local crime rate reflects a trend in the region, state and nation, Ventura County is already the safest urban county in the West, according to FBI statistics. Its crime rate is about half that of the state and far below the nation's rate.

The most remarkable local drops were 20% in Ojai, 16% in Moorpark, 9% in Santa Paula and 8.6% in Ventura. Reports of crime also fell 5.3% in Simi Valley and 4% in Camarillo. Port Hueneme officials said crime there was about the same as last year for the six-month period, but figures in one theft category were incomplete so no city total was released.

Countywide, crime dropped most in two cities patrolled by the Sheriff's Department--Ojai and Moorpark--but it also spiked upward the most in two of the sheriff's jurisdictions, 30% in Fillmore and 9% in Thousand Oaks.

"Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks are recognized [as safest], but Moorpark has always been the quietest city," Honorico said. "Crime rates there have really been down."

Serious crime is measured for FBI reporting in eight categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

Moorpark's violence dropped even further, from 33 total offenses to 26 for the first half of the year. And property crime plummeted as home burglaries fell from 40 to 23.

In Thousand Oaks, reported rapes increased from two to 13 in a disturbing trend, authorities said. Twelve of those sexual assaults were by men who knew their victims, authorities said.

"Some were date rapes and some were rapes by acquaintances," said Sheriff's Cmdr. Keith Parks, who serves as the police chief for Thousand Oaks. "It wasn't like [the date-rape drug] GHB, where someone was altering a drink, it was two people who were voluntarily drinking until she was vulnerable to victimization."

Suspects have been arrested in all but two of the alleged rapes, Parks said, and police know who the other suspects are. "So we don't have a serial-type situation," Parks said.

Thousand Oaks' crime rate--second-lowest in the nation for a city with more than 100,000 residents--was also up because of a single thief who stole property from cars parked at fitness centers, Parks said. Auto burglaries were up by 41 incidents from January through June, but the suspected thief was recently caught breaking into a car in Simi Valley, and property crime has since fallen back to normal levels.

Fillmore, the county's crime-fighting success story last year with a stunning 43% decline, nearly made up for that this spring with its 38% increase in property offenses.

Last year, authorities credited the arrest or flight of a handful of thieves with the drop. This year that might have been reversed.

"Normally when you see a change like this it's because one or two bad guys have been released and are back on the street," Honorico said. "But we don't take this lightly. It will raise an alarm."

Just up state Highway 126, Santa Paula made inroads by reducing burglaries and thefts, but saw its violent crime tick upward as felony assaults surged from 63 to 84.

"We've had a lot more activity by gangs, which is consistent with trends. It's up in L.A., and that kind of sets our tempo," Police Chief Bob Gonzales said.

Among the county's large cities, Ventura had the most impressive percentage gains--cutting overall serious crimes by 138 for the period by sharply reducing burglary and auto theft.

But Ventura robberies were up from 36 to 43 and felony assaults climbed from 92 to 113.

"It was probably domestic violence, more than gangs," Lt. Carl Handy said. "We've done a lot to try to increase reporting of domestic violence. But crime is still down across the board because of a lot of community support and three-strikes [prison terms]."

Already ranking as the safest large city in America, Simi Valley saw its total crimes drop again from 869 to 823. That included a reduction in burglaries from 216 to 195, and auto thefts from 99 to 57.

But robberies more than doubled--from 12 to 28, a difference Simi Valley Police Capt. Tony Harper said was partly due to the very low number of holdups last year.

"We have historically attributed our success to a few things: No. 1, this community loves its Police Department," Harper said. "And we have a large contingent of law enforcement [officers] who live in our city."

Simi Valley has led the county in crime cuts during the past eight years.

In Camarillo, a 4% drop was paced by a 24% reduction in home burglaries and a 35% decline in felony assaults--from 40 to 26.

In absolute numbers, the county's largest city, Oxnard, is likely to have the greatest decline when it announces reported offenses today or Wednesday.

"We're down," said Sgt. Marty Meyer. "We were way down before, and now we're down significantly from that."

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