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Simi Valley Heads List of Safest Cities

FBI figures rank Thousand Oaks third in the nation for low crime. In all, five Southland communities make the top 10.

June 18, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias and Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writers

Five Southern California cities ranked among the top 10 most crime-free large cities in the U.S. last year, FBI and census figures show.

Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks in Ventura County ranked first and third, respectively, followed by the Los Angeles County cities of Santa Clarita and Glendale, which placed sixth and ninth, respectively. In Orange County, Huntington Beach was eighth.

Sunnyvale and Daly City, both in Northern California, placed fourth and seventh, respectively.

The low crime rankings were compiled by The Times based on a ratio of population to crime reported by local police agencies to the FBI in seven categories -- homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft.

Each crime receives the same weight, which means a homicide counts no more than a bike theft.

Other California cities with at least 100,000 residents that placed in the top 20 were Irvine, El Monte, Fremont, Orange, Rancho Cucamonga, San Jose and Santa Clara. Long Beach ranked 58th and Los Angeles, where the crime rate was about 52 offenses per 1,000 residents, placed 84th.

Cities atop the informal rankings embrace the figures, saying they are good for home sales and attracting clean, high-tech businesses.

"One of our primary goals is to maintain our designation as the safest city," Simi Valley Police Chief Mark Layhew said.

"It doesn't mean we're crime-free, but we have low crime. There's a difference between the two. The important thing is for us to do our best, no matter where we're ranked."

Neighboring Thousand Oaks was nudged out of second place, a spot it held in 2001, by Amherst Township in New York. But authorities there said they are happy to remain in such a strong position.

"It's a constant effort on everyone's part, not just law enforcement, but city government and the people who live in the community," said Capt. Ken Cozzens of the Ventura County sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks. "It's a three-way team effort. Police want to catch crooks and citizens want to live in a safe city. It's just the concept of having a good quality of life."

In other Ventura County cities, Oxnard ranked 21st and Ventura was 38th.

Demographers and social scientists say the safest big cities are essentially small towns that lack deep poverty and businesses that tend to generate crime, such as bars, nightclubs and major shopping centers.

Layhew, whose department has 120 officers covering a city of 117,000, said he agrees with that analysis. But he gives a strong nod to residents who are unafraid to speak up when they see suspicious behavior, which often leads to the arrest of suspects.

"We attribute it to a combination of factors, but a lot of it's involvement," Layhew said. "They're not reluctant at all to come forward and report crimes and become witnesses. They feel comfortable in doing that."

It helps, of course, that these white-collar commuter enclaves boast high employment and are located away from the fray of big cities, which often rank low on the safety list.

"The fact that we're removed ever so slightly from the mainstream of the [San Fernando] Valley is a factor," said Lt. Scott Young of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Station in Santa Clarita, which ranked sixth.

"We don't get a high volume of transitory people. One of the attractive features about Santa Clarita is its status as a safe city. It has attracted a lot of quality people that care about their community," Young said.

In Orange County, Lt. Jeff Love, a spokesman for the Irvine Police Department, said the 32-year-old city was built with safety in mind. The city ranked 11th on the list.

"From the day they [city fathers] broke ground in Irvine, there was a plan on how Irvine would develop," he said. "Irvine was developed around a 'village' concept, little communities within the community."

Those small enclaves encourage and cultivate a keen sense of civic responsibility that keeps Irvine among the most crime-free cities, Love said.

Meanwhile, overall crime nationwide dipped 2% last year. Violent offenses were down 1.4% and property crime remained the same compared with the 2001 total, according to the FBI figures.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Low-crime cities

Lowest crime rates in 2002 for cities with populations of 100,000 or more:

Crimes per 1,000 residents

*--* 1.Simi Valley 15.8 2.Amherst Township, N.Y 16.7 3.Thousand Oaks 17.3 4.Sunnyvale, Calif 19.5 5.Stamford, Conn 20.5 6.Santa Clarita 21.1 7.Daly City 21.2 8.Huntington Beach 23.1 9.Glendale 23.3 10.Yonkers, N.Y 23.9 11.Irvine 25.3 12.San Jose 27.0 13.Sterling Heights, Mich 27.1 14.Livonia, Mich 27.6 15.Fremont 28.0 16.Orange 30.1 17.El Monte 31.0 18.Rancho Cucamonga 31.0 19.New York, N.Y 31.5 20.Santa Clara, Calif 31.5

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Times staff writers Lynne Barnes, Zeke Minaya and assistant Linda Herron contributed to this report.

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