West Hollywood's major crime rate has dropped 18% in the three months since a new contract with the Sheriff's Department put an increased number of officers on the street, city officials said.
Mayor John Heilman also cited the mushroom-like growth of Neighborhood Watch organizations--from 2 to 32 since the city was founded almost a year ago--as a major factor in the decrease of reported crime.
"We were a very high-crime area, and I'd say we still have a very significant crime rate," Heilman said. "But what we've seen is a substantial decrease, and that bodes well for the future."
Major crimes in July, August and September totaled 1,268, compared to 1,548 for the same period last year, according to figures compiled by the Sheriff's Department, which acts as West Hollywood's police force.
Dramatic drops were noted in two categories: robberies, 86 for the three-month period this year compared to 130 last year, and assaults, 146 compared to 194 in 1984.
There were smaller decreases in other categories, with 273 burglaries from July to September this year compared to 305 in 1984; 543 thefts compared to 641 last year; 204 auto thefts this year and 263 in 1984, and 4 cases of arson, down from 6.
Homicide was up slightly, from one case to three, and rapes increased from eight to nine.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the crime rate for the neighboring Hollywood Division remained stable during that period, and Beverly Hills reported a minor decrease.
Sheriff's Capt. Jim Cook, commander of the West Hollywood station, said the sharp drop in crimes reported in the new city appeared to be a direct result of a 30% budget increase that went into effect in July.
The new measures include extra officers, more patrol cars, foot patrols and parking and traffic enforcement, all part of a $7.2-million contract with the Sheriff's Department for the 1985-86 fiscal year. It was the largest such contract of any city in the county.
"From that point on, with the increased effort, we see a direct decrease in the amount of crime," Cook said.
Arrests have also increased. In the three months since the contract went into effect, arrests in West Hollywood soared to 1,955, compared to a total of 908 for April, May and June.
"We feel this has had an effect on certain groups--burglars, narcotics users," Cook said. "What it probably has done is that word has gotten out to those groups that there's a whole lot more police activity here. By making these arrests we actually provide a deterrent effect."
West Hollywood, home to about 34,000 residents, is the site of many interior design studios and a center of the recording industry, giving it a daytime population of about 80,000. There is an evening population of about 70,000, many of them attracted by the city's restaurants and nightclubs.
"We are actually handling a population much larger than the base population," Cook said. "This in turn generates a very high crime rate. West Hollywood is an affluent area."
Although an informal study by the Sheriff's Department showed that 80% of the victims and perpetrators of crimes in West Hollywood lived elsewhere, the problem remains one for the city to deal with.
The city's allocation of $7.2 million for law enforcement amounts to about 40% of its yearly budget, by far the largest share of any service provided by the city, which was incorporated on Nov. 29, 1984.
County officials had estimated earlier that West Hollywood would have to pay $6,266,199 a year for law enforcement, while the Local Agency Formation Commission, a group that decides whether new cities should be allowed to incorporate, put the estimated cost even lower, at $4,432,3.
Some West Hollywood officials had suggested that the new city should set up a police force of its own, but Heilman said that would be too expensive.
He and Cook both cited Neighborhood Watch groups as a factor in the decreased crime rate.
Organized in about 20% of the city's blocks, the local associations try to get neighbors acquainted with each other and used to the idea of reporting suspicious happenings to the Sheriff's Department.
'Very Valuable Tool'
"We've been adding Neighborhood Watch groups as fast as we can find people," said Sheriff's Sgt. Larry Schwartz, head of the crime prevention unit at the West Hollywood station. He said about 6,000 people are involved.
Greda Spiegler, who organized a group in the Kings Road area, called it "a very valuable tool for people to know each other" in an area where many of the inhabitants are not long-term residents.
"The Sheriff's Department is certainly doing a hell of a job but they can't be on every corner," she said.