Fillmore Crime Rose in 2002 Amid Gang Battles

Times Staff Writer

Fillmore's cyclical crime history repeated itself again last year, as reports of serious offenses soared nearly 15% with a sharp jump in felony violence after a big drop the year before.

As youth gangs battled in the small farm town, aggravated assaults in 2002 rose from 28 to 59.

"This goes in peaks and valleys," said Sgt. Ralph Zermeno of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, which serves as the city police force. "The reason for most of it was a spike in gang activity and alcohol and drug offenses. They were just releasing a lot of drug offenders [last year], and people came back and got high. They created a lot of crime. They just went on a spurt."

But in the last three months, he said, felony violence has abated.

"Most of the ones who were doing the crimes were caught and are now at three strikes," said Zermeno, referring to a state law that requires a life sentence with a third felony conviction.

Still, last year's violence prompted a change in police tactics: increased drug arrests, more patrolling in bars and more searches of the homes of suspects on probation or parole, he said.

Arrests for narcotics violations soared from 174 to 271 last year.

"We think we're keeping on top of it," Zermeno said.

If Fillmore's history is an indicator, last year's crime surge could have been predicted, because 2001 saw an 18% drop in serious crime. For much of the last decade, a year of low crime in Fillmore has been followed by a year of high crime.

Last year, the Santa Clara Valley railroad town of 14,000 residents recorded 305 serious crimes, up from 266 the year before. Thirty-one of those 39 extra crimes were felony assaults.

The city had 21.2 crimes per 1,000 residents, down from a peak of 40.9 in 1992. The crime total reflects offenses in the eight categories local authorities report to the FBI -- homicide, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

Before the gyrations of the last two years, crime had also swung wildly the previous three: from 428 in 1998 to 253 in 1999, then to 325 in 2000.

The Fillmore sheriff's station has been enlisting the public to help prevent crime since 1998, when thieves stole from and burglarized the community at an alarming rate.

Sheriff Bob Brooks sent in a new team of deputies who hammered youth gang members with probation searches of their homes and reached out to Fillmore's large Latino majority as allies in the war against crime.

A crew of veteran officers and aggressive young deputies helped kick down the walls that stood between Fillmore's Latino immigrants -- many distrustful of police -- and law enforcement.

Crime tumbled and has not approached the levels of 1998 since.



Statistical comparison

Fillmore crime is down from a peak of 40.9 offenses per 1,000 residents 11 years ago to 21.2 in 2002.

*--* Fel- ony Homi- Rob- ass- Burg- Auto Total Year cide Rape bery ault lary Theft theft Arson crimes 1992 0 3 9 90 158 239 22 3 524 1999 0 0 10 37 56 139 9 2 253 2000 0 4 7 48 40 201 19 6 325 2001 0 3 6 28 55 152 19 3 266 2002 0 0 10 59 50 168 13 5 305


Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department

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