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Ventura County sees 6% increase in crime in 2006

Gang activity is blamed for much of the rise in areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Dept., which is already taking action.

February 13, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A surge in gang-related assaults as well as in residential burglaries and all thefts helped push serious crime up more than 6% last year in the unincorporated areas and five cities patrolled by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Steps are already being taken to address the gang problem, including assigning additional staff to patrol high-crime areas, officials said.

"Within two weeks, we are starting a new gang unit in the western county with the responsibility for anything gang-related," sheriff's spokesman Capt. Ron Nelson said Monday.

"Hopefully, that will help us get ahead of the curve on these crimes."

Though the department does not delineate which major crimes are linked to gang members, Nelson estimates that at least half of so-called Part I crimes -- including homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults and auto thefts -- are gang-related.

In addition to overseeing the county's unincorporated areas, the Sheriff's Department contracts to provide police services to the cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Thousand Oaks.

Countywide, aggravated assaults jumped nearly 23%, from 379 to 467, while other violent crimes either remained flat or dropped.

Homicides were unchanged at eight, with six occurring in the unincorporated areas and the other two in Camarillo. Rapes fell from 52 to 40, a 23% drop; and robberies declined nearly 18%, from 140 to 115.

Property crimes increased in all categories except nonresidential burglaries, which were down 9%. Grand theft shot up nearly 17%, from 1,155 to 1,350, and residential burglaries rose by nearly 12%, from 483 to 540. Auto thefts jumped nearly 6%, from 393 to 416.

Vehicles parked along Silver Strand Beach near Port Hueneme and the Rincon area north of Ventura were big targets, Nelson said. Also, the city of Moorpark experienced 15 burglaries of unlocked cars in a single night.

"We live in a very safe county, but just because we do doesn't mean we can get by without protecting ourselves," Nelson said. "Lock the doors to your homes and cars."

In Thousand Oaks, the largest city patrolled by the Sheriff's Department, crime increased less than 1% last year. Residential burglaries climbed from 131 incidents to 167 and aggravated assaults rose from 103 to 128.

Camarillo saw a 7.64% increase in major crimes, and Moorpark marked an 8.87% rise. Tiny Ojai reported a nearly 16% jump in crimes, mostly in nonresidential burglaries, but Fillmore saw a 1% dip.

Crime in the county's unincorporated areas increased 13%, from 1,361 to 1,540 incidents.

"The numbers are so small that any increase or decrease can really change the percentages," Nelson said, "but we realize there's always room for improvement."

Meanwhile, the Ventura Police Department said gang crimes nearly tripled in 2006, although the city's overall number of major crimes -- primarily arson, nonresidential burglaries and auto thefts -- dropped nearly 5%.

Ventura Police Chief Pat Miller said tackling the hike in gang crimes, from 151 to 418 incidents, is his department's top priority this year.

Beginning Jan. 1, Miller changed policies to increase patrol time. Officers no longer respond to burglar alarms between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. unless a crime is verified through a phone call or witness.

And officers no longer routinely investigate traffic accidents unless there is an injury or a crime is involved, such as driving under the influence.

Last fall, Ventura voters rejected a measure to add 0.25% to the local sales tax, which supporters estimated would raise $4.3 million annually to hire 15 additional police officers and at least 10 extra firefighters.

"The gratifying part," Miller said, "is that even with reduced resources we were able to reduce property crime by more than 5%."



Crime statistics

Serious crime in the five Ventura County cities and unincorporated areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department increased in 2006, largely because of jumps in aggravated assaults, residential burglaries and all thefts.

Reported offenses, 2005 vs. 2006

Violent crimes

*--* Percent Crime 2005 2006 change Homicide 8 8 unchanged Rape 52 40 -23% Robbery 140 115 -18 Aggravated assault 379 467 +23 Total violent crimes 579 630 +9



Property crimes

*--* Percent Crime 2005 2006 change Burglary (residential) 483 540 +12% Burglary (other) 682 622 -9 Grand theft 1,155 1,350 +17 Petty theft 2,161 2,245 +4 Auto theft 393 416 +6 Arson 65 66+2 Total property crimes 4,939 5,239 +6 Total crimes 5,518 5,869 +6



Note: In addition to patrolling the county's unincorporated areas, the Sheriff''s Department also contracts to provides police services with the cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Thousand Oaks.


Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department

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