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The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has released last year’s crime statistics for unincorporated areas, and the news is incredibly good.

Actually, “incredibly” is probably not the proper word to describe this situation, because it suggests that it may be highly unusual. In fact, vastly improved crime statistics point to one, inescapable source — outstanding police work by our law enforcement agencies, in this case the Sheriff’s Department and others.

Sheriff Bill Brown said as much when he released the 2018 crime stats, crediting the continuing decline in serious crimes to the hard work his officers and staff are doing, plus teamwork with communities and the county’s criminal justice system.

Crime rates tend to decline for a number of reasons. A solid economy plays a role, as do this region’s extraordinarily high cost of living and lack of any big-city inclinations. That is especially true with regard to violent and property crimes.

The overall crime rate in this county was 11 percent lower in 2018 than in 2017, and crime rates fell in four cities, including Buellton and Solvang, where the Sheriff’s Department provides local law enforcement. Crime rates in the other North County cities — Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe — are reported separately.

The category that concerns and worries many residents involves violent crime, which last year fell to the lowest level in the past decade, with only 315 such crimes reported in 2018.

To us, 315 violent crimes is 315 too many, but most big-city dwellers would welcome such low numbers.

Brown also credits communities in which law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders and the courts are all working in concert to improve public safety. That sometimes is not the case in larger jurisdictions, in which the political component can keep the justice system from functioning as it should.

The sheriff also gives citizens a lot of credit for keeping overall crime at bay, especially community-based organizations that work to improve all elements of public safety.

In fact, our communities can be a major asset when it comes to law enforcement’s effectiveness, or lack of same. That is the part of this equation we have written about on a regular basis, encouraging ordinary citizens to step up when it comes to fighting crime.

We aren’t talking about stepping out of your house when you hear a ruckus on the street corner, which may be gang-related, then putting yourself in the middle of such a confrontation. Far from it, because the potential for bodily harm to an innocent bystander is extremely high in such situations.

Instead, when you see something bad going down, or you hear the angry shouts, the optimal thing to do is pick up the phone and call the emergency 9-1-1 number — but most definitely stay out of the line of possible fire.

Our law enforcement personnel are trained and well-equipped to deal with those kinds of disputes. They know how to defuse a potentially volatile situation, and that sort of work is what they do.

The eyes-and-ears concept involving private citizens is an integral part of any community policing, because it widens the scope of effectiveness for a police force or deputies. Law enforcement personnel cannot be in all places in a community at all times, but neighbors are always there. The phone call is a citizens’ means of protecting yourself and your neighbors.

The lower crime rates year-over-year are truly encouraging, because they tell us the law enforcement/justice system is working in ways that benefit our communities and neighbors.

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