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FOCUS: Orange County Focus is dedicated on Monday to analysis of community news, a look at what’s ahead and the voices of local people. : PERSPECTIVE : New Barriers to Suburban Crime Include Neighbors Dropping Theirs

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The slaying earlier this month of Irvine college student Linda Young Park left residents in the Deerfield village shaken not only by the loss of a neighbor but by the way violence shattered the peace of a city literally designed for safety.

The nation’s largest master-planned city, Irvine was built with crime prevention in mind. Housing is separated from commercial and industrial zones by expansive greenbelts and parkways to ensure residents’ privacy. Neighborhood streets do not follow a grid pattern but wind like mazes, sometimes confusing drivers unfamiliar with an area but presumably slowing down burglars trying to make getaways.

With Irvine ranked among America’s safest cities, its design has become a model for municipalities nationwide. But police and urban planners say the safeguards no longer are enough as crime patterns change and criminals become more sophisticated.

“We just can’t build walls high enough,” said Dick Wilson, a criminal justice professor at Saddleback College. “The best way of preventing crime is by getting to know our neighbors. That means coming out from behind our walls and working together.”

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That realization has prompted law enforcement officials to intensify community policing efforts, even in neighborhoods with very low crime rates. Officials also are tapping the considerable resources of local homeowner associations, which already exercise tight control over aesthetic features such as exterior paint colors and roofing materials.

Some developers have recognized the trend and are designing communities with more common spaces that encourage casual interaction among neighbors.

“What we found was that the traditional suburban experience can be isolating,” said Diane Gaynor, spokeswoman for Santa Margarita Co., which is even building some homes with old-fashioned front porches.

“What we are trying to do is create more nurturing environments for residents,” Gaynor said. Relationships among neighbors “are the best security systems out there.”

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Whether a more “nurturing” neighborhood layout or any other design factors would have made a difference for Park--whose bludgeoned, hog-tied body was discovered at her parents’ home Nov. 9--is not clear. Police believe robbery was the motive but have made no arrests.

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Though Irvine’s crime rate remains well below the county average, Park’s slaying underscores that such savagery can strike even in a city that Money magazine last year ranked as the nation’s safest in terms of violent crime.

That vulnerability also was exposed last year when a woman was slain during a robbery at her home in a quiet Turtle Rock cul-de-sac. Police think the assailant deliberately tried to avoid notice by the victim’s neighbors. He parked his car several blocks from the cul-de-sac and walked to and from the victim’s house through a greenbelt, according to police.

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City officials said such incidents underscore the need for residents to get involved.

“There’s not enough money in the world to put a cop on every corner,” said Paul O. Brady Jr., Irvine’s city manager. “The key is community involvement . . . and not allowing apathy and deterioration to set in.”

Brady and others argue that planned communities have a built-in advantage when it comes to crime prevention because most residential villages already are regulated by community associations, which often have their own governing boards and employees.

While the associations are sometimes criticized for their persnickety rules, police say their vigilance makes a big difference in the fight against crime by preventing blight of homes and public spaces.

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Increasingly, law enforcement agencies and neighborhood associations are teaming up. The Irvine Police Department encourages its officers to complete Problem-Oriented Police projects, in which they work with residents to identify specific problems, analyze their causes and develop solutions, Police Lt. Sam Allevato said.

Tips from homeowners in the Woodbridge village helped police last year build a case against a 40-year-old neighbor who had stockpiled 30 firearms and loads of illegal explosives in his home.

Crime experts such as Wilson applaud community policing efforts, especially the programs aimed at controlling crimes committed by local youths.

Several South County cities have joined forces with the county Probation Department to monitor the activities of juvenile offenders after they are released from the detention system. Irvine has allocated more than $100,000 to provide after-school activities for children.

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But Wilson said such programs will be fully effective only if residents admit crime is not just the work of “outsiders.”

“Often, people are in denial about the fact that we have people in our own community committing crime. We want to blame outside groups,” Wilson said. “We need to have an honest dialogue, not denial.”

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Street Scenes

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Designs for residential districts have evolved over years as consumer tastes have changed and concerns about crime have risen. Here are the three main patterns for neighborhood design in Orange County:

GRID

Design: Common in downtowns of older cities such as Santa Ana, Orange and Anaheim. Streets and alleys crisscross at right angles, with houses facing streets. Homes typically have porches and expansive front lawns.

Safety Factor: Encourages interaction among neighbors but makes it relatively easy for outsiders to enter and exit residential areas quickly.

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MAZE

Design: Common in master-planned communities such as Irvine as well as smaller housing tracts built in the past 30 years. Residential streets have curves and cul-de-sacs to discourage through traffic. Neighborhoods resemble mazes.

Safety Factor: May help prevent crime but may contribute to a feeling of isolation and discourage casual interaction among residents.

COMMUNITY

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Design: Employed in some recent developments such as Rancho Santa Margarita. Built to promote interaction among neighbors, communities feature houses with front porches and trails that lead to schools, parks and shopping centers.

Safety Factor: By facilitating socialization among neighbors, may encourage residents to watch out for one another, a deterrent to crime.

Sources: Times reports, city of Irvine, Santa Margarita Co.; Researched by SHELBY GRAD / For The Times


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