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Ventura County

Homicides Increase in the Nation's Safest Big City

Simi Valley: Crime rose 1.8% in 2001 over the previous year, with a disturbing hike in violent incidents. But the rate is still well below the 1992 peak.

January 20, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The nation's safest large city became a little less secure last year as suburban Simi Valley suffered a string of high-profile homicides, and a 30-year-old handyman was charged as the serial rapist who terrorized local women and then killed a college student in a freeway assault.

"It was a tough and unusual year," Police Chief Randy Adams said. "We had more homicides and tragic events in six months than we'd had in three or four years."

Ranked as America's safest city with at least 100,000 residents, Simi Valley saw crime tick upward 1.8% in 2001 from the previous year as incidents of violence jumped nearly 10%.

Police reported 1,736 serious crimes last year, down from 3,556 at the peak in 1992. The city's crime rate is still nearly the lowest in the 31-year history of its Police Department.

Yet, 2001 was a year to forget.

Domestic violence haunted the city, a popular hometown for law enforcement officers. Its six homicides were the most since 1991. That isn't counting the two children who died of excessive heat when their inebriated mother left them strapped in the family van while she slept inside their home. She pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment.

The first homicide occurred in June, when an off-duty Los Angeles police officer fatally shot his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend in front of the victim's home, then killed himself.

In September, a Thousand Oaks man who had dated a Simi Valley woman invaded her home and methodically shot five family members, killing a grandmother and two children before fleeing to Los Padres National Forest, where he took his own life.

In October, a Los Angeles County firefighter admitted fatally shooting his step-son's father after the two men argued about a child custody issue. He alleged self-defense and has not been charged. The same month, an 18-year-old man was charged with stabbing a Simi Valley carpenter to death at a birthday party.

"The positive is that everybody responsible for these acts is either in custody or took their own life," Adams said. "So we don't have anybody out there preying upon the city."

Not anymore, anyway, since the so-called "Simi Valley rapist," a jobless handyman named Vincent Sanchez, has been charged with sexually assaulting or attempting to assault 14 women beginning in 1996 and ending just days before his arrest in July. He has pleaded guilty to most of the attacks.

Sanchez has also admitted slaying 20-year-old Moorpark College student Megan Barroso, whom authorities say he attempted to rape three weeks before a Simi Valley roommate turned him in as a suspect in the previous rapes.

"We'd spent thousands of hours to break that case," Adams said.

Even with that success, 2001 was a downer overall. In addition to murder, felony assaults were up sharply and auto thefts soared 55%. With drops in robbery, rape, burglary, theft and arson, the city had 31 more major crimes than last year.

"Overall, I would say the difference is not significant," Adams said. "We would certainly like to see a decrease, but we are proud of the diligence of our officers and the partnership of our citizens in keeping this a safe city."

Adams said his city's success in the long run--a 51% drop in crime since 1992--can be attributed to the aggressiveness of patrol officers who regularly catch criminals in the act.

"We have the luxury of being in a city where our guys don't have to run from call to call," he said. "So they're out there digging and scratching to follow undiscovered crime."

In the last week, Adams said, officers caught a thief--hours after he robbed a liquor store--as he was burglarizing a car in an apartment carport. They apprehended four men accused of raping a young woman by spotting their car shortly after the incident. And they stopped a stolen car before the thief could take it out of the city.

"The message to criminals is if they're going to do that activity, they better not do it here," Adams said.

Car thieves apparently didn't get the message last year, as heists increased from 124 to 192. But Adams noted that the 2001 number is close to the norm in Simi Valley's recent history and a fraction of the 445 total in 1992.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Simi Valley Crime

*--*

Crimes Felony Auto per year Homicide Rape Robbery assault Burglary Theft theft 1992 2 11 75 178 765 2,039 445 1999 0 11 24 81 383 987 161 2000 1 13 45 75 389 1,036 124 2001 6 11 37 93 361 1,023 192

*--*

Simi Valley Crime (contd.)

*--*

Crimes (All Crimes) per year Arson Total 1992 40 *3,556 1999 52 1,699 2000 22 1,705 2001 13 1,736

*--*

* Simi Valley crime peaked in 1992. Crime per 1,000 residents is less than half of a decade ago.

Source: Simi Valley Police Department

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