Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crime In Ojai Shows Slight Rise

By Daryl Kelley
Despite a slight increase in reported serious crime because of a surge in thefts from autos last year, Ojai experienced far less violence, less gang activity, fewer calls for police assistance fewer felony arrests and less drug abuse among teenagers and young adults, according to a new police report.
Although major crime was up 2 percent in 2007 because of vehicle burglaries, calls for help to the police were well below average, and disturbance calls dropped from a peak of 1,026 in 2005 to 735 last year, writes Sheriff's Capt. Bruce Norris in a report the City Council was expected to consider Tuesday evening.
The new report — a detailed supplement to earlier 2007 crime statistics for Ojai — also finds that police responded more quickly to calls for help last year than the year before: They took an average of 5.65 minutes to get to the scene of an emergency, down half a minute from the year before. Improvement was greater for “immediate,” but not emergency calls, dropping four minutes to about six minutes.
“Overall, I think we are really doing very well,” Norris said in an interview. “Other than the thefts from vehicles, there have really been no spikes in crime in the city in the last year.”
But there have been some sharp declines: the most dramatic being the reduction in felony assaults from 17 in 2006 to just five last year, resulting in a 47 percent drop in violent crime overall last year. There were no murders, two rapes and three robberies reported.
In Ojai, calls for service related to violence also continued to plummet — from 241 three years ago to 202 in 2006 and to 178 last year.
“I believe that was directly related to a significant reduction in gang activity,” Norris said. And that reduction is due in part to a special sheriff's anti-gang unit operating in the Ojai Valley and west Ventura County during the last year, he said.
The reduction in felony arrests in Ojai — from 73 to 56 — was also related to a drop in gang confrontations, he said, although the unincorporated portion of the Ojai Valley saw felony arrests soar from 147 three years ago to 177 in 2006 and 217 last year, he said.
“Most of 2007’s serious gang activity occurred outside the city limits,” Norris said in his report to the City Council. “While the city experienced fewer gang incidents, Oak View and Meiners Oaks saw an increase in serious gang-related assaults.”
But after several arrests, “gang activity returned to a manageable level and (has) remained stable for several months.”
In Ojai, part of the drop in disturbance calls was also attributed to fewer gang confrontations, he said.
But fewer disturbances are also due to a two-year crackdown on teenage alcohol parties, he said.
Norris said the City Council's enactment in spring 2006 of the so-called "social host" ordinance — and a similar county law — seem to have had a significant effect. The laws hold parents responsible for teen parties where alcohol is served, whether the parents are at home or not.
In two years, 30 adults have been fined $1,000 each for allowing underage drinking parties at their homes, 10 in the city and 20 in county areas. One parent has been fined twice.
"Deputies are telling me that there were fewer party calls the last two years than at any time in recent memory," the police chief said. “Disturbance calls were down by 250 or more. I really believe that is the result of the effectiveness of the social host ordinance.”
Even parents who are fined seem to understand why the law is a good idea, he said.
“We haven't had irate parents calling,” he said, “or complaining at the scene either.”
Perhaps related has been the recent trend toward fewer drug arrests of juveniles.
In both the city and county areas of the Ojai Valley, only 35 youths under the age of 18 were arrested for any type of drug offense in 2007, according to the report. That reflects a steady decline since 2004, when 56 juveniles were arrested. Only four arrests were made for possession of marijuana on school campuses last year, down from 19 the year before.
Drug arrests were also down steadily for adults aged 18 to 25 from 200 in 2004 to 141 last year.
Nonetheless, Norris said in his report that illegal drug use remains a problem in the Ojai Valley.
“Methamphetamine is, by far, the most commonly abused illicit drug (excluding marijuana) in the Ojai Valley,” he wrote. “Juveniles are occasionally found under the influence of, or in possession of this drug, but the most common violators are adults, typically between 18 to 45 years ... Among juveniles, marijuana is the most commonly used drug.
“Fortunately,” Norris wrote, “police are seeing less abuse of prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, than in prior years. Though occasional overdoses are reported, these drugs are seldom found during routine probation searches, and searches incident to arrest. ... By comparison) pharmaceuticals have lost their appeal, at least for now.”
Despite fewer arrests of youths and young adults for drug use, “illicit drug use in the Ojai Valley is a serious issue. Those who use and abuse drugs, especially meth, cocaine and heroin, frequently victimize family, friends, and strangers, to quench their desire for drugs. Most of the crimes of larceny, burglary, identity theft and fraud can be attributed to those desperate to buy drugs.”
Fewer calls for service have allowed the 11 sheriff's deputies who patrol Ojai to concentrate more on preventing crime, Norris has said.
The result has been an increase in the last two years of field contacts with citizens in which officers filed contact cards on discussions with residents, witnesses and suspects. In each they compiled names, ages, addresses and phone numbers for use in future investigations, Norris said.
What wasn't down last year were thefts, especially "smash-and-grab" break-ins of vehicles.
In Ojai, those jumped from 35 three years ago to 54 in 2006 to 84 last year.
“I think the big news here is the increase in theft,” Norris said. “While the numbers are not large, it is really a significant concern. Our message is don't leave valuables in your car.”
Thieves are particularly active in areas where people leave cars for an extended period — health clubs, hiking trails, ball games and general parking lots. Police recommend locking valuables in the trunk of a car.
“In 2007, police saw a spike in thefts from locked and unlocked vehicles,” Norris writes in his report to the City Council. “Property targeted in many of these cases was money, checkbooks, credit cards, laptops, stereo systems, iPods, etc.”
Top police officials from around Ventura County have been meeting to develop strategies to curb auto burglaries, he said. But in recent years, criminals have been breaking in not just for car stereos and purses, but for credit cards and Social Security numbers.
Ojai Police have been successful in many of the theft cases, Norris said.
“Investigations by patrol deputies and area detectives revealed that local youth were responsible for many of these thefts,” Norris said in his report. “Early in the year, multiple arrests of those responsible were made, and the incidents of theft began to decrease. “
Vehicle thefts fell from 57 for the first six months of 2007, to 27 for the last six months, he said.


Anonymous said...

Having listened to Capt. Norris' complete presentation at Council last evening, I'm surprised at the headline for this story!

Shouldn't it read "Crime Rates in Ojai Mixed" or perhaps "Crime Trending Down in Ojai"?

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

well on paper it looks like its dropping if you drive a cop car to work and in town the crime drops and then rises after you pass by in your cop car you know you did not have to lock/worry about your stuff in your car/house because kids and adults knew it wasn't cool to fu** with sh** that's NOT URS but times change so put all you're stuff that you don't want stolen from your car in your house then we will see what we are supposed to do when they break in your house and steal it from there ? above it says they are getting less disturb. calls and the cops are freed up to patrol but as citizens of ojai they (the cops)tell us see a crime report it and some things don't always appear as they are right?but to say after they get there and no one is there ie no crime to come back and act like you are wasting there time (that is very valuable) and I'm not talking about i herd a noise i mean you see someone taggin or breaking into cars you know crime maybe stop calling on the neighbor for TV or music being to loud or dogs barking and go talk to your neighbor there are some nice people here.The cops have really improved the call/response time nice!