SERIOUS CRIMES INCREASE IN VALLEY; ASSAULTS, THEFT, ROBBERY RISE AS HOMICIDE FALLS.
While homicides fell to their lowest level since 1990, serious crime in the Antelope Valley rose 5.5 percent in 1997.
Homicides fell 14.3 percent, mainly from a drop in gang-related killings. Assaults and auto thefts rose by 8.2 percent, theft by 6.1 percent, robbery by 5.2 percent and burglary 2.4 percent, according to 1997 crime statistics released last week by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
``It's good to know that the most violent of violent crimes is on its way down,'' said Lt. Rod Penner, in charge of operations at the Lancaster sheriff's station. ``People are violent, but not as violent.''
In unincorporated areas of the valley, including Quartz Hill, Acton and Lake Los Angeles, serious crime dropped 6.6 percent.
Serious crime increased 9.9 percent in Lancaster and 5.8 percent in Palmdale. Sheriff's officials attributed some of the statistical increase to the continuing growth of the valley's population, although the pace has slowed since the early 1990s.
Officials say some of the reported increase, however, might just reflect changes in reporting procedures, as at schools which now report campus offenses of types that traditionally had been handled by school officials without involving deputies.
And some of the reported increase, they say, might reflect reporting by victims who come forward because there are new programs to help them, such as the domestic violence risk assessment program that uses past history and other factors to gauge the probability of further violence in a relationship.
But officials acknowledge that crime is simply up in some categories.
``Some of the rises are actual, and we are developing programs to deal with the increases,'' Penner said.
Sheriff's officials last month announced the start of the Career Criminal Apprehension Program, using computerized records to analyze crime patterns and keep track of parolees and repeat offenders.
From the Palmdale sheriff's station, two deputies and a probation officer serve on the youth crime task force created last year to target teen-agers committing burglaries and auto thefts. Burglaries dropped 6.8 percent last year in Palmdale; auto theft went up 15.8 percent.
Palmdale sheriff's officials are applying for a federal grant to step up the combat against auto theft.
``We both have very dynamic cities that are growing,'' said Lt. Dave Collin, operations lieutenant for Palmdale. ``We'd love to see our city as one of the safest in California, and we're going to work for that.''
Deputies say a few active criminals can cause the crime rate to surge. Authorities believe three men committed 30 to 40 robberies of fast-food restaurants and other businesses before they were arrested in December and January.
``That impacted us hard,'' said Penner.
Gang-related homicides dropped from at least 10 in 1996 to no more than three in 1997.
Among other homicides last year, two or three killings seemed drug-related, a baby was suffocated by a parent, another death was attributed to domestic violence, and sheriff's deputies shot three men - two who were holding firearms and one who was stabbing his girlfriend.
And a couple of homicides were just bizarre. A homeless man was killed by another, apparently for making annoying noises in his sleep. A man was fatally shot after a quarrel about putting vinegar on a salad.
Deputies credited the decline in crime in the unincorporated valley to the federally funded Community Oriented Policing Services team. The COPS team has been saturating communities with deputies who go door-to-door, listen to residents and then try to solve the crime problems that residents identify.
``We're certainly pleased with this,'' Penner said. ``We'd like to think it's paying off.''
The following figures are a comparison of crime statistics between 1996 and 1997.
GREATER ANTELOPE VALLEY
Crime 1996 1997 %
Homicide 28 24 -14.3%
Rape 123 125 1.6%
Robbery 632 665 5.2%
Assault 2,288 2,476 8.2%
Burglary 3,361 3,440 2.4%
Larceny 5,310 5,632 6.1%
Auto theft 1,833 1,984 8.2%
Arson 150 133 -11.3%
Homicide 12 10 -16.7%
Rape 58 53 -8.6%
Robbery 308 341 10.7%
Assault 1,005 1,134 12.8%
Burglary 1,458 1,630 11.8%
Larceny 2,335 2,513 7.6%
Auto theft 782 877 12.1%
Arson 55 51 -7.3%
Homicide 6 7 16.7%
Rape 3846 21.1%
Robbery 260 275 5.8%
Assault 838 926 10.5%
Burglary 1,235 1,151 -6.8%
Larceny 2,257 2,437 8.0%
Auto theft 700 808 15.6%
Arson 40 37 -7.5%
Homicide 10 7 -30.0%
Rape 27 26 -3.7%
Robbery 64 49 -23.4%
Assault 445 416-6.5%
Burglary 668 659 -5.4%
Larceny 718 682 -5.4%
Auto theft 351 299 -14.8%
Arson 55 45 -18.2%
SOURCE: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
BOX: CRIME STATISTICS (see text)