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Violent crime drops, property crime up in '07

Sheriff's officials cite a rise in thefts from vehicles in Ventura County areas patrolled by the department.

January 31, 2008|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Property crime in areas patrolled by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department rose slightly in 2007, while violent crime dropped to its lowest level in years, authorities said Wednesday.

Homicides, rapes and robberies per capita were down 17% in the county's unincorporated areas and the department's five contract cities -- Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Thousand Oaks -- according to crime statistics released by sheriff's officials this week.

"We're obviously thrilled," said Chief Deputy Geoff Dean, who oversees countywide patrol services. "Our whole goal is to make people feel safe in their communities and this has got to help."

Homicides in the sheriff's jurisdiction dropped 50%, from eight the previous year to four, while aggravated assaults dropped 21%, from 467 incidents to 369, officials said. Robberies declined 7% from 115 to 107, but rapes reported increased nearly 18% from 40 the previous year to 47.

The overall drop in violent crime is based on the number of crimes per 1,000 people. This is the lowest percentage since 1973, the first year such statistics were collected, officials said. Camarillo had an 18% drop last year, compared with 2006. Fillmore was down 15%, Moorpark 9%, Ojai 47% and Thousand Oaks 20%.

"It's a partnership with the community," said Sheriff's Cmdr. Dennis Carpenter, who serves as police chief in Thousand Oaks. "I think we've gotten the word out that we want residents to contact us no matter what it is. The city is committed to public safety and the community is committed to public safety. We work together."

The east county sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks launched a program in June called City Watch, where more than 10,000 households receive regular e-mail alerts on crimes and safety tips.

Last summer, days after a message went out about a rash of thefts from coin laundries and washing machines in apartment buildings, one resident took a photo of a van matching the description on the website and an arrest was made, Dean said.

Capt. Bruce Norris, who runs the Ojai station, credited the return of the sheriff's gang unit last February with helping his town of about 8,100 people slash violent crime.

"They come up to help us and they are very effective. We focused pretty hard on gang members this past year and it's really paid off," Norris said. "But I don't want to get too cocky about our performance, because that number can turn around in a matter of months.

Capt. Ron Nelson, leader of the gang unit, said his crew stepped up investigation of gang-related crimes -- including graffiti, drugs and armed robberies -- and focused on analyzing statistics to help prevent gang retaliations and other incidents.

"We've seen some payoff, but our work is not done. We've had some shootings in the first month of 2008, but we're heading in the right direction," Nelson said.

Property crime, including burglary and grand theft, was up about 5%, with the biggest increase in thefts of items from vehicles. Such crimes are often committed by thieves who walk through a neighborhood looking for vehicles that are unlocked or have briefcases, purses, laptop computers, iPods, cellphones and other valuables in plain sight.

Capt. Jeff Matson, who serves as Moorpark's police chief, said such thefts have increased by double digits in each of the last two years, despite efforts to educate residents.

"One hundred percent of those crimes can be prevented if people would secure their property," Matson said. "That's the message we've been trying to put out there: It's on the city's website, on our public access channel. We even have volunteers who hand out fliers to remind people to remove property from their cars.

"People in Ventura County feel safe, but they still need to secure their property," Matson added. "It doesn't matter if you live in the safest place in the nation, if you're the victim of a crime it doesn't make you feel any better."

Port Hueneme, a coastal town of 22,300 next to Oxnard, released its crime statistics Wednesday. A drop in homicides, robberies and auto theft combined to reduce overall major crimes 15%, from 584 incidents in 2006 to 496 last year.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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