The crime rate in five Ventura County cities and in unincorporated areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department declined by 8.1% last year, falling to its lowest level in 22 years, authorities reported Wednesday.
The overall rate for serious crimes was 23.5 per 1,000 residents, sheriff's officials said.
Overall crime in Camarillo, the largest west county city served by the Sheriff's Department, declined by 10.1%. Violent crimes in the city--including homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults--were down 25.7%.
Sheriff's officials attributed the overall decline to a sharp drop in residential and commercial burglaries in cities under the sheriff's jurisdiction--Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Thousand Oaks.
Compared to the previous year, the number of narcotics-related arrests nearly doubled, rising to 2,582. Sheriff's officials said the arrests helped reduce residential burglaries by 14% and commercial burglaries by 24.1%.
"We believe there is a direct correlation," said Sgt. Bruce Hansen. "Every time you see an increase in narcotics arrests, you see a decrease in the crime rate."
Violent crime in all areas covered by the Sheriff's Department decreased by 8.6% in 1994. Seventy-one percent of the incidents reported to the department were aggravated assaults, with one in 10 involving domestic disturbances.
Of the five cities under the sheriff's jurisdiction, Fillmore saw the biggest drop in violent crime, with the rate falling by 32.9%.
Violent crime in Ojai, however, the smallest city in the county, was up 17.3%. Authorities blamed the jump on an increase in aggravated assaults to 26, and on two reported rapes. There were no rapes reported in Ojai the previous year.
Moorpark was the only city under the sheriff's jurisdiction that saw its crime rate increase. Although violent crime in the east county city dropped 13.6%, the overall crime rate rose a slight 0.6%. Officials said a rise in the number of petty thefts and vehicle burglaries contributing to the increase.
Meanwhile, overall crime in Thousand Oaks, the largest city in the east county, declined 9.6%, with serious crime falling in every category.
Cmdr. Kathryn E. Kemp, who heads up the Thousand Oaks sheriff's office, attributed the decline to increased narcotics-related arrests, strong public cooperation and the hiring of more deputies.
"In the last two years, the city council has approved the hiring of five new officers," Kemp said. Two of the new deputies will begin work in August.
Sgt. Keith Lazz, of the sheriff's Camarillo station, credited residents in that city with helping to reduce its overall crime 10.1% last year.
"Camarillo residents aren't afraid of stepping forward and getting involved, and it's made a big difference," Lazz said.
Like other officials across the county, Camarillo City Manager Bill Little said that while residents and law enforcement authorities were pleased with the decline in the crime rate, they will continue to work to keep improving safety in their community.
"We will not be lulled into complacency by these figures," Little said. "In fact, they show that we're on the right track and now we have to stay the course."
Meanwhile, the overall crime rate in the city of Ventura rose 5% last year, due to an increase in aggravated assaults, while crime in Santa Paula declined 11.7%, because of a drop in burglaries and assaults. Both cities have their own police departments.
Statistics for the cities of Simi Valley, Port Hueneme and Oxnard, were not available Wednesday.
Of all the statistics reported by the sheriff's department Wednesday, Sgt. Bruce Hansen said the most surprising was the number of false-alarm calls deputies responded to last year. Of the 12,626 alarm calls received, 99.3% were false alarms.