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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Serious Crime Hits Lowest Point in Over 25 Years

Sheriff's Dept.: County rate in '99 falls to 16.27 incidents per 1,000 residents. Overall crime rises 3%.

March 21, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Continuing nearly a decade of decline, the rate of serious crime in areas patrolled by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department plunged again in 1999, falling to its lowest point in more than 25 years, authorities said Monday.

The 1999 major crime rate of 16.27 per 1,000 residents is the lowest since the county began tracking such statistics in 1973, when the rate was 43.0 per thousand.

Violent and property crimes slipped an average of 14% from 1998 to 1999 in Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Ojai, Fillmore, Moorpark and unincorporated areas of the county.

The decline in serious crimes came despite a spike in homicides last year, which increased from six in 1998 to 11 in 1999, an 83% jump.

But authorities attributed much of that upswing to a single incident last year--when Socorro "Cora" Caro, wife of a respected rheumatologist, allegedly fatally shot three of her four children as they slept in their Santa Rosa Valley home in November.

"When you have a single episode where three children are shot in a home," said Sheriff Bob Brooks, "then it doesn't take a lot of incidents to make that much of an increase."

Overall crimes in Ventura County, everything from rape to vandalism to traffic arrests, rose 3% in 1999, with an increase of 587 incidents.

Among the jumps in violent crimes, aggravated assaults rose 4% over the previous year.

But significant reductions, such as a 26% drop in residential burglaries and a 26% slide in auto thefts, reduced major crime rates for yet another year, to the delight of Brooks, now in his second year as county sheriff.

Brooks credited aggressive narcotics enforcement for a 15% reduction in property crimes. Last year, Brooks helped reestablish a countywide drug unit that had disappeared, largely because of funding problems, in 1994. Drug arrests rose by 6% in 1999.

"Very often, [property] thefts are the result of a drug habit," Brooks said. "They aren't done out of poverty; they are done out of desperation. You take the distributors or users off the street, and crime goes down."

The drop in countywide crime parallels similar reductions in California and throughout the nation.

The most dramatic change came in Fillmore, which saw a 43% reduction in its crime rate. Serious offenses there plummeted from 430 in 1998 to 247 in 1999, with the biggest dips in residential burglaries. This is a dramatic turnaround for a city that saw crime increase during most of the 1990s at a time when other cities watched their statistics decline.

The rate of serious crimes dropped by 12% in both Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, while Ojai had a 7% drop, and in the county's unincorporated areas, the rate fell 17%. Only Moorpark saw a jump in serious offenses, up 2%. The overall crime rate in Moorpark soared 30% to 54.76 incidents per 1,000 residents.

Last year's numbers also show a dramatic increase in the number of bomb and bomb threat incidents that the Sheriff's Department handled countywide, nearly tripling from 11 cases in 1998 to 29.

In the wake of the Columbine High School shooting last year that left 15 people dead, a wave of bomb threats hit county schools. Though most were hoaxes, the calls kept the sheriff's bomb squad working around the clock for several weeks.

Brooks said people also are generally more wary of suspicious packages these days because of easy access to bomb-making information on the Internet.

"We still get suspicious package incidents almost daily," Brooks said. "People are still very much alerted to the threat. They know that kids with very little sophistication can learn how to make these very serious devices."

While crediting community-oriented policing efforts for much of the county's continuing crime drop, he said cooperation from residents also was a factor.

"When you look at the types of crime that contributed most to that dip," Brooks said, "things like residential burglary, vehicle theft, those things heavily impact the community. And it's the kind of things neighbors see and can help us stop. That kind of community cooperation goes a long way to prevent occurrences."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County Sheriff's Crime Statistics

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Number % Rate per 1,000 Category 1998 1999 change change 1998 1999 % change Homicide 6 11 5 83% 0.02 0.03 81% Rape 46 42 -4 -9% 0.14 0.13 -10% Robbery 120 105 -15 -13% 0.38 0.33 -14% Assault 406 422 16 4% 1.27 1.31 3% Total violent crimes 578 580 2 0% 1.81 1.80 -1% Residential burglary 844 626 -218 -26% 2.65 1.94 -27% Commercial burglary 562 529 -33 -6% 1.76 1.64 -7% Vehicle burglary 623 508 -115 -18% 1.95 1.57 -20% Grand theft 839 760 -79 -9% 2.63 2.35 -11% Petty theft 2109 1,837 -272 -13% 6.62 5.69 -14% Auto theft 448 333 -115 -26% 1.41 1.03 -27% Arson 60 80 20 33% 0.19 0.25 32% Total property crimes 5,485 4673 -812 -15% 17.21 14.48 -16% Total serious crimes 6063 5,253 -810 -13% 19.03 16.27 -14%

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Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department, which covers the cities of Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Ojai, Fillmore, Moorpark and all unincorporated areas.

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