The overall number of Ventura County bank robberies dropped dramatically in 1993, but bank holdups are becoming increasingly common in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, the FBI reported Thursday.
Continuing a trend reported last month, bank robberies in the county fell 50% this year to the lowest level since 1990.
In Oxnard, Ventura and Port Hueneme, the number of bank holdups has plummeted, which may reflect a decline in the overall crime rate in Oxnard, said Gary Auer, special agent in charge of Ventura.
“There has been a truly remarkable reduction in this particular crime problem in the west end of the county,” Auer said.
At the same time, however, bank heists are an increasing problem in the affluent east county, with more gang members from Los Angeles crossing the county line to commit robberies, he said.
Countywide, the total number of bank robberies dropped from a record high of 97 in 1992 to 48 this year. In Oxnard alone, they plummeted from 39 to three, while in Ventura, the number fell from 22 to nine.
But in the east county cities of Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, bank holdups doubled from 11 to 22, accounting for nearly half of the county total.
Remarking on the dramatic declines in the west county, Auer noted that the substantial drop in bank holdups in Oxnard reflects an overall reduction in crime in the city.
Burglaries and robberies other than bank holdups, for example, are down by at least one-quarter from last year in Oxnard.
Oxnard police attribute the crime drop to their new emphasis on community policing, said David Keith, spokesman for the Oxnard Police Department. But Keith said he had not yet examined the FBI statistics on bank robberies and could not pinpoint specifically why bank holdups had plummeted 92% since last year in Oxnard.
The decline in bank heists in Oxnard is apparently having a positive effect in neighboring cities, Auer said.
In the past, most bank robberies around the county have been committed by Oxnard residents, he said. “What we are seeing is a lot fewer Oxnard residents committing bank robberies,” Auer said.
Another reason for the dramatic decline in west county bank robberies may be that the FBI caught robbers responsible for most of last year’s holdups, Auer said. Thirty-nine criminals responsible for more than 80 of the bank robberies in 1992 are now behind bars, he said.
“In bank robbery situations, the robber, particularly the one who’s on narcotics, will continue to rob until he gets arrested,” he said.
Across Southern California, an estimated 80% of all bank robberies are committed by drug addicts, Auer said.
In Ventura County alone, most of the bank robbery suspects caught by the FBI in the past have been addicts whose drug suppliers had urged them to commit holdups to support their habits, Auer said.
But that did not hold true this year, he said. “Of those people that we are arresting, we’re not seeing that connection back to drug dealers.”
The drop in bank robberies in Ventura County mirrors a reduction in most Southern California areas, including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.
Holdups in all seven counties fell 37% from 2,641 in 1992 to 1,661 this year, FBI spokesman John Hoos said. Better cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies was mainly responsible for the drop in crime, he said.
But this decline is not holding true in eastern Ventura County.
Bank robberies rose from nine to 16 in Thousand Oaks and from two to six in Simi Valley this year. Home Savings of America, for example, was robbed twice at its Westlake Village branch and once at its Thousand Oaks branch, after having no holdups at these offices last year.
“It’s suburbia,” Hoos said. “We’re seeing a movement from the inner cities to suburbia by gang associates.”
Many Los Angeles street gang members have turned from robbing convenience stores to holding up banks, where they can get more money, he said.
But increased pressure from law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles is leading bank robbers to travel outside the city to commit their crimes, Hoos said. “What we’re seeing is these robbers will steal a car in Inglewood or Santa Monica and they will drive one hour on the freeway to Thousand Oaks, to Lancaster, to West Covina or to Riverside. And they will rob banks.”
Indeed, the FBI is having more trouble catching people who rob banks in the east county than in the west, where most holdup suspects are local residents, Auer said.
Some bank managers in the east county were philosophical about becoming a more frequent target of robbers.
“I’m not surprised,” said Tony Kourounis, manager of the Thousand Oaks branch of the First State Bank of the Oaks, which was held up once this year after having no robberies over the past few years.
“We’ve been fortunate over the last few years,” he said. “Maybe they’re just catching up.”
Bank Robberies by Locality
Area ’92 ’93 Camarillo 11 6 Ojai 0 5 Oxnard 39 3 Piru 1 0 Port Hueneme 11 3 Santa Paula 2 0 Simi Valley 2 6 Thousand Oaks 7 9 Ventura 22 9 Westlake 2 7 Total 97 48
Ventura County Bank Robberies By Year
Year Total 1986 71 1987 60 1988 31 1989 76 1990 43 1991 52 1992 97 1993* 48
* Through Dec. 30
Source: Ventura County office of the FBI