VENTURA COUNTY NEWS; COUNTY AGAIN BEST IN WEST FOR LOWEST CRIME RATE; SAFETY: OFFENSES DROPPED 9% LAST YEAR AND 15% IN THE FIRST HALF OF 1999. AREA LEADS 13-STATE REGION FOR THE SEVENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR.

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS; COUNTY AGAIN BEST IN WEST FOR LOWEST CRIME RATE; SAFETY: OFFENSES DROPPED 9% LAST YEAR AND 15% IN THE FIRST HALF OF 1999. AREA LEADS 13-STATE REGION FOR THE SEVENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR.

DARYL KELLEY, TIMES STAFF WRITER, October 25, 1999, Monday, Ventura County Edition, October 25, 1999

Ventura County remained the safest urban area in the West in 1998 after crime fell for the seventh straight year to levels not seen locally in three decades, according to new FBI figures.

Crime dropped more than 9% to 19,971 offenses last year, as the county retained its distinction as the urban area with the lowest crime rate in the 13 Western states.

Reported offenses are now one-third lower than the all-time high eight years ago. The decline reflects similar trends in California and the nation. The seven-year nationwide drop is the longest since the FBI began collecting crime data in 1930.

“This is a national trend, but we’re on the better end of that trend,” said Sheriff Bob Brooks, whose department patrols five of 10 local cities. “And I believe the reason is that people really cherish the quality of life they have in this county, and they’re willing to participate to maintain it.”

The sharpest local crime reductions last year were in Moorpark, Port Hueneme, Simi Valley and Oxnard. And violent crime continued to plummet countywide.

Earlier this year, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks ranked first and second on a list of the most crime-free cities in the U.S. with populations of at least 100,000. And a third east county city, Moorpark, is even safer.

Statistics for the first half of 1999 show that crime is still dropping. It is off 15% from January through June compared with the same period in 1998.

Crime rates are based on a ratio of city population to crime reported in seven categories–murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft.

Authorities attribute the continuing decrease to the fact that residents are generally older and less prone to criminal activity. Some broad societal changes are also helping, officials say.

Youth gangs are not considered as cool or glorified as they were a decade ago. And tough two- and three-strike sentences are putting repeat criminals behind bars longer, giving police opportunities to intervene with troubled teenagers.

“Three strikes has really made a difference. We’re seeing gang leaders staying in jail longer,” Brooks said. “This has allowed us to put an emphasis on prevention, because we’re not having to put out fires all the time.”

Throughout 1998, police continued to press strategies that helped staunch the crime surge of the early 1990s. They suppressed gangs through special units and targeted drug users to reduce theft.

Bigger police budgets have also put more officers on the streets.

But police also say this county is blessed with communities that have resident patrols and officers who get out of their patrol cars and into neighborhoods.

“Community policing is now a countywide phenomenon,’ Brooks said.

Oxnard, for example, has more than 1,000 people involved in resident patrols, compared with only a few six years ago.

The Sheriff’s Department has also seen its volunteer numbers skyrocket. About 2,000 residents now participate in Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, Fillmore and Ojai. This after the department started its 12-week Citizen Academy training program from scratch in 1993. The academy–offered in English and Spanish–has more than 400 graduates, Brooks said.

From that large pool of graduates, the sheriff recruits uniformed volunteers to patrol neighborhoods unarmed and call in sworn officers when they spot potential lawbreakers.

Ventura County reported 27.2 crimes per 1,000 residents in 1998, down from 43.0 seven years earlier, according to the FBI’s new Crime in the United States report.

The counties of Orange, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara ranked next in the West, with crime rates of 30.5, 31.2 and 31.3 offenses per 1,000 residents, respectively.

They were followed by Santa Clara County, 34.0 crimes per 1,000 residents; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo., 39.1; Provo, Utah, 39.3; Pocatello, Idaho, 39.3; San Diego, 39.5; Sonoma County, 39.7; Monterey County, 39.9, Cheyenne, Wyo., 39.9 and Bremerton, Wash., 40.0.

Those compare with California’s overall rate of 43.4 crimes per 1,000 residents and the national rate of 46.2.

Los Angeles County had a rate of 43.3 offenses per 1,000, and its violent crime rate was more than three times higher than Ventura County’s.

Most impressive in Ventura County is the continuing drop in violent offenses.

Murder, rape, robbery and felony assault decreased nearly 10% last year, and Oxnard accounted for much of that reduction. The five-year drop in violence countywide is 31%. And the county’s violent crime rate is now less than one-half of California’s.

In the years to come, however, Ventura County must brace for a demographic shift that will almost certainly mean more crime throughout the nation: Numbers of crime-prone teenagers are expected to rise rapidly before peaking about 2003 or 2004, Brooks said.

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