Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ojai Shows Violent Crime Decline

Anti-gang unit credited with drop in youth assaults

By Daryl Kelley
Serious crime in Ojai rose slightly last year, but felony violence dropped to its lowest level since at least 1990, because efforts to reduce youth-gang assaults were successful, police said this week.
New statistics show that while overall crime inched upward because of petty theft, serious violent offenses were off sharply thanks to a drop in felony assaults, a category of crime often influenced by gang activity.A new Sheriff’s Department anti-gang unit began operations last spring in western Ventura County, including the Ojai Valley, and authorities credit that with contributing to a sharp reduction in assaults. Also, a spate of gang-related violence in 2006 prompted the conviction of a dozen youths, taking them off the street at least temporarily.
“It’s exceptionally low, and it’s definitely related to less youth-gang activity,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris, who functions as Ojai’s police chief. “You could see it was down by what the deputies are doing here in the city.”
The most serious gang-related violence locally last year was a drive-by shooting on Drown Street in February, when a shooter from out of town wounded an east Ojai resident. There was another drive-by shooting early this month, when a 17-year-old high school student was shot in the leg, but not seriously wounded, at the corner of Ojai Avenue and Fox Street.
“The last three major incidents we’ve had were not the result of (Ojai) gang members assaulting people: they were the victims of the assaults,” Norris said. “It was somebody else’s aggression.”
Overall, there were 263 major crimes in Ojai last year, up six offenses from 2006 and the highest level since 1995, the Sheriff’s Department reported this week.
All of that increase was the result of a jump in thefts.
Still, home and business burglaries were off.
And criminal violence plummeted by almost half, from 19 in 2006 during a spate of gang assaults to just 10 last year. The city experienced no murders, two rapes and three robberies. One rape was by a longtime live-in boyfriend and the other is still under investigation because of inconsistent stories by the victim.
The robberies were by an ex-employee of Sea Fresh restaurant, a man who demanded cash in Libbey Park then shot the victim with a BB gun, and a heist of a branch of Rabobank.
Serious assaults, often a marker of gang activity, fell from 17 to five.
The biggest spike was in petty theft, which is defined as a loss of property worth less than $400. Those minor thefts increased from 137 to 156, while grand theft was up from 41 to 50. Auto thefts remained constant at six. And there were no arsons in Ojai last year, compared with one the year before.
Norris noted the same trends in 2007 that prompted a dramatic increase in crime the year before, the theft of valuables from cars and citizens’ relaxed attitude about securing their property.
“The rise in the crime rate is tied to the rise in thefts,” Norris said. “There have just been a rash of thefts from vehicles. It’s just a widespread phenomenon, not just in Ojai. So people just have to get a lot more careful about not leaving valuables in their cars.”
Hiking trailheads are one popular spot locally for auto burglaries, Norris said. “They don’t hesitate to smash a window if they see something they want,” he said.
The increase in thefts is related not only to vehicle burglaries but also to thefts at local schools, Norris said.
The school thefts often included the loss of MP players, I-pods or cell phones from backpacks or lockers, he said.
Police have been successful in many of the theft cases, he said.
“Many suspects in these thefts from vehicles have been arrested: We have seen a sharp decrease since October,” Norris wrote in a brief analysis of the year’s trends. “(And the) school resource officer has made several arrests related to school thefts.”
When all eight categories of serious property and violent crime are taken together, the number of crimes per 1,000 Ojai residents — the city’s crime rate — increased 3 percent last year to 32.34.
That’s nearly twice as high as the overall crime rate for all five cities and the unincorporated area that the Sheriff’s Department patrols.
By comparison, Thousand Oaks had a crime rate of 16.46 crimes per 1,000 residents, Moorpark 17.21, Camarillo 17.76 and Fillmore 23.7.


James Hatch said...

Is this for real? A sugarcoating of the fact that Ojai has a higher crime rate than Fillmore?

Let's face the facts. The facts are that not enough is being done to rid the streets of gangs.

Anonymous said...

Misleading statement- do they mean
to say calls are down but those
received are more serious, so lesser crime is down?Taken from this blog topic last year, continuing denial of problems to appease public safety image of community is counter-productive and retroative. Statistics indicate growing problem and putting it off doesn't deny this.
But then- old timers are amazed
to see any increase, since they remember when someone driving off
Creek road while blowing their
nose was as bad as it got...

Anonymous said...

Maybe they think crime is down because people don't want to report anything because the sheriff then knocks on your door asking if you are the one that called, thus marking your house for retaliation.

Good move, duh! And they wonder why people don't want to get involved.

Daryl Kelley, OVN reporter said...

a point of clarification for mr. hatch...
ojai's violent crime rate is about one-third that of fillmore's -- 1.23 per 1,000 residents compare with fillmore's 3.4....overall, the five cities in the sheriff's department jurisdiction and the unincorporated area of ventura county reported a violent crime rate well above ojai's -- 1.51 compared with 1.23 for ojai.
ojai's crime rate overall is higher than the other cities because of the flurry of petty thefts.

Anonymous said...

The VCSD is a fine law enforcement agency.

The OVN is a fine local newspaper.

Daryl Kelley is a fine reporter.

James Hatch is a real piece of work.

James Hatch said...

Dear Mr. Kelley,

I need only refer you to your own statistics for crimes per 1,000 residents to justify my earlier comment. I rank from highest to lowest:

1. Ojai: 32.34 (As you point out, "That’s nearly twice as high as the overall crime rate for all five cities and the unincorporated area that the Sheriff’s Department patrols.")

2. Fillmore: 23.7.

3. Camarillo: 17.76.

4. Moorpark: 17.21.

5. Thousand Oaks: 16.46.

Are your statistics incorrect? The way I read your article, I was right the first time.

My comment is not a knock on law enforcement, it is a knock on the fact that there is not a law/injunction against gangs that they can enforce in the first place.

Could you imagine how much safer the streets would be if our law enforcement was given the ability to crack down on gang members?

Anonymous said...

mexican gangs are using ojai as a staging area for recruitment of workers in their national forest marijuana farms. they routinely gather at the laundromat on bald st. where their mothers and girl friends wash the cloths of the "agricos narcos". law enforcement gang intervention is only marginally effective due to the casual attitude of law enforcement toward these gangs as being part of the mexican culture and therefore creating fear among law enforcement that to target these individuals would be viewed as cultural intolerance and racial profiling thereby inviting criticism from community activists. local law enforcement has neither the political will nor occupational pride to address this growing problem with anything resembling courage. one has to wonder that they might be getting a piece of the action. good luck and good bye to ojai as a sleepy little artists community. the mexican gangbangers are here to stay.