In a Safe City, 1 Crook Can Steal The Show
By Daryl Kelley, The Los Angeles Times
For Thousand Oaks, Calif. one of the safest large cities in the nation, authorities say Jason Wines was a one-person crime spree.
Wines, 25, who lived in bushes next to a Thousand Oaks freeway, was recently sentenced to a year in Ventura County Jail after pleading guilty to eight felony counts of grand theft, vehicle burglary and receiving stolen property.
Investigators said Wines acknowledged committing more than 60 property crimes. He was charged with 37.
"This guy was a walking crime spree," said Sheriff's Sgt. Jerry Weaver, who helped investigate Wines. "At his encampment we recovered a ton of stolen property. We had him confirm 65 different thefts or burglaries from automobiles."
Wines' crimes, committed over a three-month period, accounted for about half of Thousand Oaks' 13% increase in major offenses during the first half of 2004, compared with the same period in 2003, officials said.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Keith Parks, who functions as Thousand Oaks police chief, said the Wines case demonstrated how a single criminal in a low-crime area could spike the statistics residents use as a barometer of community safety: "One person can have a dramatic impact," he said. "But we're very pleased our violent crimes dropped" by 4%.
The mixed results in Thousand Oaks during the first six months of the year mirror those of all four Ventura County cities with at least 100,000 residents: None had drops in both violent and property crimes.
The cities report crime in the eight categories the FBI uses to detect trends: homicide, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.
In Simi Valley, which regularly vies with Thousand Oaks as the most crime-free large city in the United States, violent offenses were down 21%, to just 66, but property crimes were up 15% to 1,129. Nearly all of that increase came from a sharp jump in petty thefts.
But the city, after no slayings in 2003, was also stung by two homicides early this year. A businessman was fatally shot as he returned home late at night, and a mother was fatally stabbed and her 15-year-old son charged with the crime.
Arsons also doubled in Simi Valley, to 16.
And, "We had a rash of thefts from vending machines, where they used a blow torch to melt the plastic and get into the coin box," Sgt. Paul Fitzpatrick said.
But felony assault fell sharply in Simi Valley, from 49 to 39 cases.
"Those numbers are always tied to what goes on in the bars, and to domestic violence," Fitzpatrick said.
Ventura experienced the only overall decrease among the large cities. Crime was down 3%, with the reduction coming from a decline of 88 thefts. But violence was up 9%, with aggravated assaults up by nine and robberies up five.
Ventura also had two homicides, compared with none for the same period in 2003. A 21-year-old Ventura woman was shot to death by her boyfriend, who later overdosed on heroin and died. And a 26-year-old man was fatally shot near his Avenue area home.
In Oxnard, officials contend that the city had a sharp reduction in violent crime because the Colonia Chiques gang ran for cover after prosecutors announced in March that they would seek a court ban on its members gathering in public.
Subsequently, homicides, attempted homicides and felony assaults — all crimes closely connected to gang activity — plummeted, police said. From March 1 through July 31, officials say, there were only three such crimes involving Chiques members and just five involving members of any of the city's several gangs.
That compares with five Chiques-related violent crimes and 19 for all gangs for the same five-month period in 2003, and 22 Chiques-related offenses and 39 for all gangs in 2002, police said.
Clearly, the effect has been dramatic, said Police Chief Art Lopez in a news release announcing that violent crime in the first six months of 2004 had dropped 8% in Oxnard.
Police could not say, however, why robberies — another crime related to gang activity — increased from 183 to 192 in the first half of the year.
Overall, Oxnard crime increased 4.6% as auto thefts jumped by 130 to 442, or 42%.
"All of the increase was contained in just that one auto theft category," police spokesman David Keith said.
The Police Department recently joined with the California Highway Patrol to plan strategies to reduce that number, Keith said.
In Thousand Oaks, the Wines case was intriguing not only because of the number of offenses the defendant admitted to but because of his sentence.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Redmond, supervisor of the misdemeanor and general felony units, said that despite his youth, Wines had previously been convicted of five misdemeanor crimes and one felony, including possession of drugs for sale.
In the recent case, Wines, an admitted daily drug user, apparently began committing crimes almost as soon as he got out of jail for being under the influence of a controlled substance, authorities said.
Thirty-four victims were identified, many of them students at Cal Lutheran University. Wines, a 1997 Camarillo High School graduate, had attended the university before dropping out.
Wines received a sentence of one year in jail and five years' probation, which meant authorities could try to regain some of the thousands of dollars that victims lost to him, Redmond said.
"If this guy is sent to the joint, there's no chance at restitution," the prosecutor said. "But if he stays here, he can find a job in work furlough for five years, and a probation officer can twist his arm for a couple hundred dollars a month restitution."
If Wines fails to pay, he can be sentenced to up to nine years in state prison, Redmond said. "Like in a lot of theft cases," he said, "the sentence is the quandary."