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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Simi Valley Retains Place as Safest City in U.S.

Crime: Thousand Oaks comes in close second in annual FBI survey of big cities. Officials credit policing, citizen involvement.

May 09, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley remained the safest large city in the U.S. in 1999, nudging rival Thousand Oaks for the top spot, new crime statistics show.

The two east Ventura County commuter communities edged a college community in suburban Buffalo, Amherst Town, N.Y., according to FBI and U.S. census figures.

Simi Valley or Thousand Oaks has ranked first for safety among the nation's cities with at least 100,000 residents nine of the past 12 years. Amherst Town was first the other three years.

"You bet, we take pride in being No. 1," Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis said. "Our Police Department watches it very closely, and they always give us the ranking as soon as it comes in."

Simi Valley uses its top ranking to lure businesses, Davis said. Recently, a medium-sized San Fernando Valley aerospace firm, Fairchild Fasteners, cited employee safety as a key reason for relocating to Simi Valley, he said.

"They said they were really happy to be moving to the safest city in the country," Davis said. "They said their employees wanted to move here because it's safe. It's one of those things--along with affordable housing and good schools--that really bring businesses here."

Nationwide, crime was down 7% last year from 1998, the FBI reported. By comparison, offenses were off 7.8% in Simi Valley and 8.3% in Thousand Oaks.

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

For 1999, Simi Valley reported 14.9 crimes per 1,000 residents, while Thousand Oaks reported 15.6 offenses per 1,000. Amherst Town had a crime rate of 19.6.

None of the other 222 large cities in the U.S. approached that degree of safety.

Suburban Santa Clarita, on Ventura County's eastern flank, ranked fifth. Two cities in the San Fernando Valley--Glendale and Burbank--and two in Orange County--Irvine and Huntington Beach--were in the top 10. The city of Orange was 11th, and El Monte 12th.

California cities captured 11 of the top 12 positions.

Ventura ranked in the top 15 nationally with a rate of 29.9 crimes per 1,000. But its reported crime cannot be compared with other agencies because police there do not report some petty thefts as required by FBI guidelines.

Oxnard, the county's biggest city, had a crime rate of 38.2 crimes per 1,000--well below the national and state average for large cities.

Among all local cities, 28,000-resident Moorpark consistently ranks as the county's safest, marginally lower than Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. That means that the county's safest three communities are in the east county.

The crime rate in every local city, regardless of size, is well below state and national averages.

In Simi Valley, Police Chief Randy Adams said it's easy to see why.

"Our citizens get involved. They go out and try to solve problems," he said. "For example, we had a problem house where there were a number of gang incidents, and the neighborhood was up in arms. They got a [court] restraining order placed on that house. They stopped the loitering in front and they stopped the gang activity."

Simi Valley has led the county in crime cuts over the past eight years. Remarkably, crime is off by about half in that well-kept, white-collar city, down from a peak of 3,442 to 1,647. That is the lowest number of reported offenses in the history of the city's 29-year-old Police Department, Adams said.

Beyond strong community support, Adams said Simi Valley benefits because of California's tough two- and three-strikes sentences that put repeat criminals behind bars for long periods.

"One serial criminal can be responsible for 50 to 100 crimes in a week," he said.

Thousand Oaks' plunging crime rate came because it held the line on violent crime to one of the lowest levels in 15 years. That was achieved by using a full-time, eight-officer gang unit to make dozens of arrests, officials said. Thousand Oaks also had a sharp decline in burglaries, which dropped from 449 to 369.

Sheriff Bob Brooks, whose department polices Thousand Oaks and Moorpark, among other communities, said he pays little attention to the east county's friendly rivalry.

"There may be a rivalry between chambers of commerce and council members, but not between [police] departments," Brooks said. "We don't even kid about that. We concentrate on community problems."

Right now, Thousand Oaks' deputies are focusing on a spate of gang violence in the Conejo Creek condominium complex, where several young men from Van Nuys were arrested after a recent slaying.

"That doesn't give us a lot of time to look over our borders [at Simi Valley]," Brooks said.

In absolute numbers, Oxnard has led the way locally in the reduction of crime for nearly a decade. That blue-collar city experienced 470 fewer serious crimes last year, cutting murders to just four and registering sharp declines in rape, robbery and felony assault.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

America's 10 Safest Cities

These are 1999's safest communities with populations greater than 100,000.

*--*

Crimes per 1,000 City Population residents Simi Valley 110,463 14.9 Thousand Oaks 117,199 15.6 Amherst Town, N.Y. 111,711 19.6 Sunnyvale 127,444 20.8 Santa Clarita 127,001 21.0 Irvine 136,446 24.7 Huntington Beach 195,316 24.9 Daly City 100,000* 25.3 Glendale 185,086 27.0 Burbank 100,000* 28.1

*--*

*

Source: FBI, U.S. Census Bureau

* The FBI includes Daly City and Burbank in its large-city crime report, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the populations of both cities at slightly less than 100,000 on July 1, 1998.

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