Plagued by a rash of homicides in his city, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez said Friday that only one of the seven killings that have occurred since the first of the year was gang-related and assured the public that his department is taking aggressive steps to stem violent crime.
Lopez, speaking at a news conference with other city officials, said four of the homicides occurred after domestic or personal disputes and two were the result of a murder-suicide. Two of the cases have been solved and a suspect has been named in a third, officials said.
"From time to time, law enforcement sees unusual patterns," Lopez said. "These homicides are not typical of Oxnard."
Still, the Police Department plans to shift about 16 officers to its homicide and major crimes units to help keep a lid on violent crime, Lopez said. Depending on crime trends and other data, police will step up patrols in specific areas of the city.
Police also plan to hold a series of community meetings about the current wave of crime, offering ways that residents can help authorities minimize problems.
"We all have a stake in the outcome and a responsibility to work together to get this done," Lopez said, adding that the Oxnard City Council has approved financing for police overtime and hiring additional officers. The 209-member force will add about 11 officers by the end of the year, he said.
During the last decade, the city has seen the number of crimes cut nearly in half and the crime rate drop from 67 offenses per 1,000 residents to about 30, one of the lowest in the nation for a city of its size and well below state and national averages.
But last year, the city experienced a 2.1% increase in major crime, including hikes of 20% in felony assaults and 26% in auto thefts. Homicides jumped from six to 10 last year, with four of the slayings involving rival gangs. Serious assaults also increased from 374 to 449, a reflection of increased gang hostilities.
Oxnard leaders said they recognize the community's concern about the recent increase in homicides and want to assure the public that the city and police are doing all they can to curb violent crime.
In addition to providing for more police overtime, the City Council in February approved spending $57,700 to supplement the cost of providing a full-time prosecutor to the Police Department's gang-suppression program.
Police also have established a hotline to report violent crimes. Anyone with information can call (805) 982-7070.