Already the safest city in the most crime-free urban county in the West, Moorpark solidified its position last year as a prosperous and peaceful retreat from the national trend of rising crime.
As crime rates ticked up across California and the nation, the fast-growing Ventura County bedroom community of 33,000 people became safer.
Reported serious crime fell nearly 15% in 2002, and felony violence plummeted by nearly one-third as Moorpark's crime rate fell from 10 offenses per 1,000 residents to just above eight.
The FBI will not release its annual crime report of America's cities until the fall, but Moorpark seems certain to at least retain its standing from 2001 as the fourth-safest city with at least 10,000 residents in California.
Neighboring Simi Valley routinely ranks as the most crime-free large city -- those with at least 100,000 residents -- in America. Moorpark's crime rate is only half that of Simi Valley.
Among the state's small cities, Moorpark, a master-planned community founded in 1984, ranked behind only the gated senior-citizen enclave of Laguna Woods in Orange County, exclusive Hillsborough in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley prison town of Avenal, where about half the residents are inmates.
The crime rankings were compiled by The Times based on a ratio of population to crimes reported by local police agencies to the FBI in eight categories -- homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. Each crime is given the same weight, so a homicide counts no more than a bike theft.
Moorpark crime plummeted in almost every category last year, increasing only in auto theft.
Felony violence fell from 40 offenses to 27, with no homicides, one rape, two robberies and only two dozen aggravated assaults last year.
Likewise, burglaries and thefts dropped by 32 offenses. Overall, crime fell from 318 in 2001 to 272.
"Everybody is excited about these crime statistics, and I'd love to tell you what we're doing here is magic," said Sheriff's Capt. Richard Diaz, who serves as Moorpark's police chief. "But it's real difficult to say exactly what it is. It's probably a lot of little things."
One of them is a high law-enforcement profile in the community. Once located in the sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks, Moorpark's 28-officer department has operated since 1998 out of a station in the center of town. Crime has tumbled every year since.
Sixteen additional deputies who patrol county areas surrounding Moorpark have been stationed there since last year. That brings a lot of patrols to the small city.
"We get the benefit of increased traffic by deputies," said Mayor Patrick Hunter, a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "Response time is decreased. And we don't lose deputies' time because they have to go back to Thousand Oaks" to fill out paperwork.
At least three cruisers are on patrol in the city 24 hours a day, Diaz said.
"There's a large presence of officers coming and leaving the station," he said. "So there's the appearance that the city has a very large force."
Moorpark is also blessed with highly educated, high-income residents. The 2000 census reported the city's typical household pulled in $76,642 a year, and a third of its adults held at least college degrees. Those figures rank it second only to Thousand Oaks among Ventura County's 10 cities and far above statewide averages.
Like adjacent 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.
They come to a clean city known for its high school Academic Decathlon team, its community college, cultural arts center and quaint town center -- but little else beyond strip malls, job-rich industrial parks and rolling golf courses.
There are few retail shops and no big-box stores except Kmart. The city's movie theater just reopened. Nightlife is limited to restaurants and a community playhouse. That helps keep crime low, officials say. Shopping malls often lure criminals, and entertainment venues invite out-of-town visitors.
From a purely tactical standpoint, sleepy Moorpark benefits from extensive school and city recreation programs for children and the strong crime-prevention presence of three full-time officers in middle and high schools.
The city also pays for a youth gang officer and a special enforcement deputy, both of whom focus on any emerging problem. As a result, officials said, the serious gang problems of a decade ago are history, and felony assaults have dropped from 72 in 1991 to 24 last year.
Another emphasis is traffic enforcement, with two motorcycle officers and a black-and-white on patrol. Citations for driving under the influence rose from 53 in 2001 to 67 last year, and arrests for narcotics increased from 184 to 278.
"Traffic is one of our biggest priorities," Diaz said. "And if these people are out there stopping cars, they have a strong presence on the main streets."
Beyond tactics, Moorpark officers are successful because residents take such an active interest in law enforcement, Hunter said. And the city takes pride in its record of security.
"We're No. 4 in the state," he said. "But our goal is really No. 1. And I think it's attainable."
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Moorpark crime is down from a peak of 22.8 offenses per 1,000 residents 11 years ago to 8.2 in 2002.
*--* Fel- ony Hom- Rob- ass- Burg- Auto Total Year icide Rape bery ault lary Theft theft Arson crimes 1991 1 2 14 72 147 305 47 10 598 1999 1 2 13 37 125 183 40 6 407 2000 0 3 8 39 61 183 29 3 326 2001 1 3 6 30 52 196 26 4 318 2002 0 1 2 24 50 159 33 3 272
Source: Ventura County Sheriffs Department