Violent crime in some of Ventura County's most populous areas--particularly in the eastern portion of the county--jumped again last year, causing law enforcement officials to express alarm.
Crimes classified as violent--homicide, rape, robbery and assault--increased 4.2% in 1991 compared to the previous year, according to the sheriff's annual crime report. The Sheriff's Department provides service to five cities and the unincorporated areas.
Including other crimes that are not classified as violent--such as residential and commercial burglaries and auto thefts--the overall serious crime rate in the county increased 9.5% last year over 1990.
Property crime was up 10% in the county last year, according to the report. Vehicle burglaries and auto thefts led the list, up 38.9% and 23.3%, respectively.
In violent crimes, Camarillo had the biggest increase of the five cities, jumping 23.1% over its 1990 level.
"It's hard to find some bright spots," said Camarillo Sheriff's Cmdr. Ray Abbott. Still, he said, violent crime in Camarillo was "the lowest I know in the county" in terms of crimes per 1,000 people.
Countywide, even with last year's increase, the rate of 28.5 serious crimes per 1,000 people was below the county's average crime rate of 32 crimes per 1,000 over the past two decades.
A major problem is "finding a way to raise the consciousness of the community" to prevent certain crimes, particularly nonviolent ones, Abbott said.
For example, he said, in about 300 residential burglaries in the Camarillo area last year, there was no force used to gain entry.
In other words, people are forgetting to lock their doors and windows.
Assistant Sheriff Richard S. Bryce said part of the crime spurt is linked to criminals from other areas viewing Ventura County as fertile turf to make a quick buck. This is illustrated by a 60% increase in the past two years in the number of Ventura County Jail inmates who gave Los Angeles County addresses, he said.
Of the four other Ventura County cities that the Sheriff's Department patrols, Thousand Oaks had the second highest increase in violent crime, up 19% over 1990. Moorpark was next with a 15.7% increase in violent crime last year.
The other two cities--Fillmore and Ojai--showed decreases in violent crime last year compared to 1990, down 36.9% and 29%, respectively.
Homicides jumped last year--15 against 7 in 1990. Three of the homicides were gang-related, as were 25 of the 697 aggravated assaults last year.
The increase in violent crime in the county since 1988 has triggered concern in the Sheriff's Department, which is charged with preserving law and order for about half the county's 669,000 residents and more than three-quarters of its area.
"Violent crime is the thing that affects us the most dramatically," Bryce said. "It's the most intolerable of all crimes. You're dealing with life and that's the thing we protect the most."