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Oxnard Says School Crime Up--on Paper

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The number of reported assaults at Oxnard’s elementary and intermediate schools increased dramatically last year, while crime in the city’s high school district declined, according to a study by the state Department of Education.

But elementary school officials say the increase may be because they have begun reporting relatively minor schoolyard scuffles as assaults.

During the 1987-88 school year, the Oxnard Elementary School District reported 82 assaults, but figures in the state report released this week showed an increase to 388 assaults for 1988-89.

In the Oxnard Union High School District, the total number of crimes dropped from 594 in 1987-88 to 533 last year.

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But officials from both Oxnard districts and other Ventura County school districts say the report cannot be compared from year to year because of differences in reporting crime from district to district, as well as changes in state requirements, that may have affected the outcome of the report.

“There’s been quite a dramatic change in the state’s requirements that really makes a difference to us,” said Richard Duarte, administrator for pupil services with the Oxnard Elementary School District.

For example, in 1987-88, Duarte said, Oxnard elementary administrators had not reported routine, minor fights between classmates in the category of assaults, attacks and menace on state reporting forms.

But after administrators with the Oxnard elementary district attended a state-sponsored workshop on how to report campus crime, they began including those figures, and the number of reported assaults in the district increased more than fourfold.

In the Oxnard Union High School District, Director of Student Services Christine Smith said statistics are affected by how individual districts report crime.

“The whole issue of crime is based on the penal code, and those of us in education are trained in the education code,” Smith said. When the state began including clearer definitions of assault and other crimes on reporting forms, it resolved “a lot of confusion.”

Countywide, the number of reported crimes at all 20 school districts was up more than 5% over last year. The total number of crimes for 1988-89 was 4,183, compared to 3,973 the previous year, according to state figures.

However, reported crime at Ventura County schools has decreased by about 11% since the school reporting program began in 1986, while school crime statewide decreased by 2% during the same period, the report said.

Two of the county’s smallest districts--the 114-student Mupu Elementary School District and the 345-student Mesa Union Elementary School District--reported no crimes in 1988-89.

The county’s biggest district, the 18,437-student Simi Valley Unified, reported 791 crimes overall-- the highest in the county--but 604 of those crimes were incidents of vandalism.

Pamela Spencer, Simi Valley Unified’s director of public information, said the district “might possibly have higher vandalism levels due to our close proximity to Los Angeles.”

The Conejo Valley Unified School District reported only three assaults but 36 incidents of weapons possession, the highest in the county.

“A lot has to do with the reporting process each district has,” said Conejo Valley district official Linda Calvin. “I think the difference is all of these are being better reported.”

Rich Morrison, coordinator of pupil and administrative services for the county superintendent of schools, called the crime reporting duties “an interesting responsibility for educators. In the past, things happened that were questionable concerning whether they were reportable crimes, and we still wonder because we’re not law enforcement experts.”

Ventura school officials said efforts to come up with better definitions for some crimes, particularly assaults, as well as workshops sponsored by the state to help officials fill out crime reporting forms, have improved the system.

“The major difference is we came closer to having a common definition for some areas in question, areas that dealt with assault and menace,” said Calvin, coordinator of special services for the Conejo Valley school district. “The definition the state had and the way it was interpreted by the districts were at variance.”

Some officials cautioned against comparing Ventura County districts with districts elsewhere.

“You can’t compare last year or the year before to this year,” Morrison said. “And I imagine next year it would be wise to be cautious about making comparisons.”

Wayne Toscas, coordinator of child welfare and attendance at the Ventura Unified School District, said the figures for individual districts should not be compared with each other.

“I don’t think comparing Ventura with Shasta County or with Los Angeles makes sense,” Toscas said. “The real value in these reports is you try to be consistent with the state, but beyond that, if you’re internally consistent from one report to the next then you get a measure of whether things have to be adjusted in your own district.”

Officials pointed out that compared to other counties, Ventura County is a relatively safe place to go to school.

“I think there’s a limited amount of school crime going on in the first place in Ventura County,” Morrison said. “It’s a pretty good place to go to school, overall.”

CRIMES IN VENTURA COUNTY SCHOOLS

For 1988-89 school year

reported assaults weapons on students/ possessions District staff/others (guns) Briggs Elementary 5/2/0 0 (0) Fillmore Unified 278/0/0 4 (1) Hueneme Elementary 108/3/2 5 (0) Mesa Union 0/0/0 0 (0) Mupu Elementary 0/0/0 0 (0) Ocean View Elementary 43/0/0 3 (0) Ojai Unified 28/0/0 7 (0) Oxnard Elementary 388/0/0 13 (0) Oxnard Union High 316/4/0 31 (5) Pleasant Val. Elementary 29/1/0 12 (0) Rio Elementary 55/1/0 1 (0) Santa Clara Elementary 0/0/0 0 (0) Santa Paula Elementary 15/1/0 22 (0) Santa Paula Union 25/0/0 9 (1) Simi Valley Unified 43/2/0 1 (0) Somis Union 0/0/0 0 (0) Ventura Unified 328/21/2 32 (0) Conejo Valley Unified 2/1/0 36 (2) Oak Park Unified 23/0/0 1 (0) Moorpark Unified 36/1/1 5 (0) COUNTYWIDE TOTALS 1,722/37/5 182 (9)

property crimes District (vandalism) Briggs Elementary 0 (0) Fillmore Unified 99 (55) Hueneme Elementary 73 (61) Mesa Union 0 (0) Mupu Elementary 0 (0) Ocean View Elementary 13 (8) Ojai Unified 28 (14) Oxnard Elementary 52 (25) Oxnard Union High 78 (8) Pleasant Val. Elementary 100 (70) Rio Elementary 49 (43) Santa Clara Elementary 1 (1) Santa Paula Elementary 53 (33) Santa Paula Union 8 (3) Simi Valley Unified 739 (604) Somis Union 10 (9) Ventura Unified 205 (79) Conejo Valley Unified 342 (288) Oak Park Unified 22 (6) Moorpark Unified 55 (41) COUNTYWIDE TOTALS 1,927 (1,348)


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