Advertisement

FBI Ranks Moorpark 7th-Safest Among State’s Smaller Cities

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Along with California’s enclaves for the rich and its well-armed prison towns, the Ventura County bedroom community of Moorpark ranks as one of the state’s safest cities.

The crime rate of Moorpark, a family-oriented community of 32,000 created during the 1980s, ranks seventh of 341 California cities with at least 10,000 residents, according to an analysis of the FBI’s latest Uniform Crimes Reports.

“Lots of police officers live here, and lots of firefighters, and lots of families too,” said Moorpark Mayor Patrick Hunter, a lieutenant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “The man across the street is a policeman and the man moving in next door is a fireman. We’re interested in the same things everybody else is--a safe community, good schools and little traffic.”

On a Metrolink line to Los Angeles and adjoining Simi Valley, the safest large city in America, Moorpark has grown sixfold in two decades, building expensive planned communities from peach and apricot orchards and on the hillsides surrounding the agricultural Tierra Rejada Valley.

Advertisement

Today, the affluent white-collar city ranks behind only the exclusive San Francisco Bay Area communities of Hillsborough and Moraga, the pricey Los Angeles County towns of San Marino, Sierra Madre and Palos Verdes Estates--and Soledad, a Salinas Valley farm community with a state prison as its main employer.

Moorpark ranks just ahead of Rancho Palos Verdes, oak-studded Saratoga in the Silicon Valley and Avenal, a dusty prison town in the San Joaquin Valley.

The cities’ crime rates reflect the ratio of population to eight categories of crime--murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

The FBI compiles crime totals each year for thousands of cities and counties across the U.S. Its most recent report reflects crime in the year 2000. Moorpark’s crime report for 2001, released this week, shows that crime has dropped.

Advertisement

“There are just a lot of good people here, trying to do the right thing,” said Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Bob LeMay, who serves as Moorpark’s police chief.

Particularly effective, he said, are Moorpark school and city recreation efforts that provide afternoon and evening programs. “But in fairness, you have to look at the composition of this community,” LeMay said. “We’re largely a bedroom community. And you tend to see a smaller crime rate in those kinds of areas.”

LeMay, who moved his family to Moorpark last year, said the fast-growing city also benefits from good homes, churches, schools and service organizations. “Healthy communities have all of those,” he said.

Like neighboring Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks in eastern Ventura County, Moorpark is a prime destination for disenchanted San Fernando Valley residents seeking better schools and a manageable, small-town atmosphere.

Advertisement

They come to a spotless community known for its high school Academic Decathlon team, its community college, cultural arts center and quaint town center--but little else beyond strip malls and industrial parks.

There are few retail shops and no big-box stores, except Kmart. The city’s only movie theater is closed. That helps keep crime low, officials say. Shopping malls often lure criminals, and entertainment venues invite out-of-town visitors.

“You have to look beyond the statistics,” said Hunter, who was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and moved to Ventura County in 1986. “We have a very low fear factor. We have joggers late at night and early in the morning. People use the parks all the time. While statistics can be misleading, the absence of fear is not.”

Sleepy Moorpark is getting safer all the time, bucking a state and national trend of crime rates beginning to rise last year after a decade of decline. Since 1991, Moorpark’s crime rate has plummeted from 22.8 per 1,000 residents, to 9.9 last year.

Advertisement

“What’s interesting about a town our size, in a safe community like ours,” Hunter said, “is we have so few crimes that it enables us to analyze each one to prevent a reoccurrence if it’s a trend.”

LeMay said Paul Ferruzza, a deputy in his 26-officer city department, works a special enforcement assignment to quash emerging crime trends.

“He goes to the hot spots and puts the fires out,” LeMay said. “If we’re experiencing vehicle burglaries in an area, he’ll [work in plain clothes] and make it a project....If we’re experiencing tagging, as we did on occasion last year, we’ll make that a project and hold those people responsible.”

Moorpark once had a significant youth gang problem, but that has abated, LeMay said. As a result, felony violence has dropped from 87 offenses in 1991 to 40 last year. Aggravated assault, a crime frequently linked to gang problems, fell from 72 to 30.

Advertisement

“We may have the major [gang] players in custody or they may have moved out of the area,” LeMay said. He cited diligent detective work by Sgt. Jim Bollington, who tracks the whereabouts of gang members as a deterrent. “Nothing was done in the last year to turn this around,” LeMay said. “It’s just been a continual thing to stay on top of it.”


Advertisement
Advertisement