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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

Reports of Minor Crimes, Youth Infractions Rise

March 27, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

While reports of rape, robbery and burglary dropped in Ventura County last year, compared with 1998, reports of minor crimes rose.

According to statistics released last week by the Sheriff's Department, citizens reported nearly 2,000 simple assault and disorderly conduct cases in 1999 versus about 1,800 the year before.

This includes shoving a spouse or neighbor, making annoying phone calls or being a peeping Tom. The numbers are for the areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department--Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Ojai, Fillmore, Moorpark and unincorporated areas of the county.

More surprising, though, may be the rise in reports of miscellaneous misdemeanors, which rose 7% from 1,344 in 1998 to 1,435 last year.

These include dozens of offenses, such as skateboarding or loitering in an off-limits area or walking an unleashed dog. The largest portion were committed by kids who broke city or county curfew laws by being on the street or in a park after hours and by those caught smoking cigarettes or ditching school.

"These are probably the most significant numbers in any given year," sheriff's spokesman Eric Nishimoto said of the top three miscellaneous offenses.

Department officials deny that these types of crimes are on the rise; they say they are just catching more kids in the act.

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Would you like soup or salad with that?

Instead of asking you to step out of the car or hand over your license and registration, the only question a dozen local police officers will ask Wednesday night is whether they can take your dinner order.

That's right, between 5 and 9 p.m., Ventura Police Assistant Chief Steve Bowman, Lt. John Garner and several sergeants, corporals and officers will trade their badges and guns for aprons and order pads to raise money for the Ventura County Special Olympics.

Along with a few folks from the district attorney's office, they will sling pasta and pesto--and maybe pour a little vino--at Jonathan's at Peirano's on Main Street in Ventura.

The event is one of several "Tip-A-Cop" benefits hosted by county law enforcement agencies for charity during the year. Last year, the Ventura force raised about $1,000 in gratuities at the same dinner.

"We'll be taking orders that night," said Lt. Gary McCaskill, a department spokesman who volunteered.

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Ah, if only life were a board game with get-out-of-jail-free cards.

There is something close--it's called being released on your own recognizance--but for everyone else the options are cash, credit card or a bail bond company. So how does it all work?

This question arose after a story last week about a group of people who are trying to free a Port Hueneme woman from jail by raising her $500,000 bail in cash.

This method allows people to get their money back if a defendant appears for all court proceedings.

For most people, though, making bail means contacting one of the county's dozen or so bail bond companies and shelling out cash as well as property, said Virginia Castanon, owner of Jess Bail Bonds in Oxnard.

Like Castanon's business, most bail bond companies require the defendant, or whoever is trying to post bail, to pay 10% of the bail amount upfront along with a $10 bond fee.

For example, a person in the pokey on $10,000 bail must pony up $1,010, which is nonrefundable. Next, the bail bond company will want collateral equal in value to the bail. Most people secure this by signing a deed of trust on their home, which causes a lien to be placed on the property.

In some cases, bail bond companies will accept collateral in the form of cars, jewelry or computers. In one case handled by Castanon, a man from Malibu signed over several homes to free another man from jail who was being held on $250,000 bail on a charge of murder.

"You have to go by instinct sometimes," Castanon said about cutting deals regarding certain types of collateral.

Believe it or not, though, sometimes being a good, regular customer can help, she said.

*

Happy Birthday Crime Watch!

I could babble on about the stories that have appeared in this column during its first year--the crime survivors and great detective work, criminals on the run, crime trends, interesting cops, busted pyramid schemes, new technology and retiring K-9s--but I won't.

Instead, I will share my favorite piece. It's not one of the many scoops or the sordid tales of mystery and intrigue. It's about an officer.

Last December, Oxnard Police Officer Jason Benites witnessed a drunk driving crash that claimed the life of 7-month-old Henry Valdez. It was the second time Henry's mom had lost a child to accident or illness.

Instead of just filing his report and chalking it up to a bad day on the job, Benites passed the hat and raised $900. He collected toys and bought a ham and took it all to Henry's parents and surviving two sisters.

Now that's a story.

Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at 653-7581 or at holly.wolcott@latimes.com

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