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How safe is Santa Clarita, really?

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, May 29, 1996

K
ick me, but I never really believed Santa Clarita was the fifth safest respectably-sized city in America.

You see, whenever new figures come out, like they did a couple of weeks ago, all we hear is the raw number of crimes — not the crime rate.

When they say Santa Clarita sustained 3,947 violent crimes and major property crimes last year while 269,583 were committed in Los Angeles, you gotta reckon that makes sense, since there are about a zillion times more people in Los Angeles. They're going to have bigger numbers of crimes.

The only way to know if the incidence of crime in Santa Clarita is higher or lower than it is in Los Angeles or anywhere else is to compare the number of crimes to population. In other words, determine the per capita crime rate.

So I took the official 1995 crime figures for California cities with populations over 100,000 and crunched them with the year-end 1995 population figures to come up with the ratio of crimes to residents in each city.

Guess what?

Among the 47 biggest cities in California, those with the lowest per capita crime rates were Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Sunnyvale and Santa Clarita, in that order — the same four California cities that were among America's top five for fewest crimes reported.

Sonofagun.

The statistical probability of this coincidence is almost nil. But seeing is believing!

Overall, the correlation between crime rates and the number of crimes, or crime rates and city size, was about what one would expect. There was no strong correlation.

San Jose, for instance, had the seventh highest number of serious crimes in California last year, but it was the third largest city. Merge the variables, and San Jose comes out ninth safest among the 47 cities studied.

At the other end of the spectrum were Fontana and Costa Mesa, whose rather few crimes were many in relation to their population.

More crimes were committed in Los Angeles than anywhere else in California, of course. But our state's biggest city outshone ten others in crimes per capita. Least safe was Fresno, with 119 serious crimes for every 1,000 residents. Berkeley, San Bernardino, Oakland and Sacramento also had more than 100 serious crimes per 1,000 residents.

Santa Clarita had only 30.4 per 1,000.

State Attorney General Dan Lungren's office was quick to point out that the numbers don't necessarily tell all.

"Take the city of Vernon," Lungren spokesman Mike Van Winkle suggested. "It probably has the highest crime rate on the planet. But only 80 people live in Vernon, and there are a lot of factory warehouses that get burglarized all the time. So most people in Vernon aren't directly touched by the crimes."

Another thing the numbers don't readily show is how hard some Santa Claritans work to keep those very figures down. Local nonprofit groups like United Mothers and Mad About Rising Crime (MARC) augment the efforts of a city government that has taken a "zero tolerance" posture on crime.

"We have a very pro-active city leadership and Sheriff's department," says Jonathan Myl, president of MARC. "Other cities have tried to emulate Santa Clarita's Anti-Gang Task Force and Youth Master Plan."

"A big part of it is that Santa Clarita has a lot of folks who are committed to youth and the community," Myl adds. "In MARC, our volunteers and Sheriff's deputies teach people everything from household safety to identifying the warning signs before their children become taggers. Club MARC offers after-school programs that are designed to keep good kids good."

Myl fears the low crime figures could lure people into a false sense of security.

"Unless we have a shooting on a high school campus, God forbid, people won't be driven to action. The potential for crime can be huge, because we're not street savvy. It only takes one crime to ruin your whole life."

Like anything else worthwhile, keeping Santa Clarita safe is something you'll have to help do yourself.

Get involved with MARC by calling 253-3330. Join your Neighborhood Watch program, or start one if there isn't one on your block. Learn about Operation Safe House and teach your kids to look for the green triangles that hang in the windows of participating homes. Find out about these and other community-based crime prevention programs by calling Deputy Tom Drake at 255-1121.

There's at least one more thing our local crime figures don't reveal.

They say that four in every ten Santa Claritans are cops, are related to cops, or have good friends who are cops. I haven't seen the numbers on that one, but I'm inclined to believe it.

    Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident.

    ©1996 LEON WORDEN — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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