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Major-Crime Rate Dips, but Killings and Rapes Rise

February 09, 1992|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — Major crime in Pasadena decreased about 1% during 1991, compared to the previous year, but Police Chief Jerry Oliver sees little reason to celebrate.

"The decrease is sort of like walking southbound in a northbound train," he said. "The numbers are down, but the potential for violence is still very high."

For one thing, although the total amount of crime decreased, there were increases in some significant categories, among them criminal homicides, rapes and burglaries. Criminal homicide refers to murder, manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.

Bringing the total down were decreases in robberies, thefts, motor vehicle thefts and arson. There was no significant change in assaults.

In an interview last week, Oliver said the figures, which come from the 1991 major crimes summary recently prepared by the Police Department, should not be used to gauge the effectiveness of his agency.

"Crime statistics don't really say much about crime," he said. "They say more about the failure rate in the community of institutions--from law enforcement, to education, to the churches, to business.

"All of these elements have a role to play in decreasing violent crime. . . . Law enforcement traditionally never addresses the conditions that cause crime. We're the ones that have to clean up the spilled milk."

Oliver, a former deputy city manager in Memphis, became the Pasadena department's administrator last July. Before moving to Memphis, he rose through the ranks of the Phoenix Police Department to assistant chief.

In Pasadena, he plans to emphasize crime prevention. Oliver has been meeting with community leaders, educators and the clergy to develop programs to steer young people away from crime. He has discussed the possibility of setting up youth programs in church facilities.

Oliver said he will also address the city's crime problems this year by making a few changes in his department. He plans to set up a major-crimes unit to give special attention to complex homicides, burglaries, robberies, white-collar offenses and organized crime. Combatting gang violence will remain a high priority, he said.

City Councilman Isaac Richard recently criticized the Police Department for a raid on local gang members' homes. In the Dec. 26 sweep, officers seized 14 weapons and arrested eight people on suspicion of being active gang members. But the Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to press charges based only on membership in a gang.

Nevertheless, Oliver supports the action, saying the raids helped remove firearms from the street and may have prevented shootings.

"I stand by that, and I'd do it again tomorrow," he said.

Pasadena police based their arrests on the California Street Terrorism and Prevention Act, a measure signed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1988. Seeking to combat gang violence, the state Legislature created additional penalties for those who commit crimes in the course of gang activity.

Pasadena police interpreted the law as giving them the authority to arrest people who are merely identified as members of a violent gang. County prosecutors, however, say the law should only be used to increase a prison sentence--not as the sole reason for an arrest.

But Oliver insisted, "It's a device and tool given to us by the Legislature, and I'd use it again tomorrow."

Lt. Van Anthony, an investigations supervisor, said Pasadena has about 1,700 active gang members and many other "wanna-bes" or "busters," who wear gang-type clothing but are not members.

Of the city's 135 drive-by shootings in 1991, 74 involved gang members, police estimated. Gangs were also involved in 39 of the 76 incidents in which people were wounded by gunfire.

Anthony said, "Our murder rate would be half of what it is today, if not for gang activity."

During 1991, Pasadena's 21 criminal homicide cases included 15 murders and six vehicular manslaughter incidents.

Of the 15 murders, eight involved gang members, Anthony said. In five of those incidents, both the victims and the suspected killers were gang members, he said. In the other three slayings, police believe gang attacks claimed the lives of innocent people.

In the remaining murders, six were described as domestic clashes and one was labeled drug-related.

Investigators made arrests in 12 of the murders, providing a "clearance" rate that was above the national average, Anthony said. The department had a similarly high clearance rate in 1990, when investigators made arrests in 11 of that year's 13 murder cases.

Anthony said police are concerned about the 19% increase in rapes and attempted rapes last year, but have no explanation. He said the department improved its clearance rate in rape cases from 43% in 1990 to 68% in 1991.

"Even though there was an increase in the number of rapes, we arrested more rapists and sent more to jail" in 1991, he said.

Crime in Pasadena

1990 1991 Change Criminal Homicide 19 21 +11% (includes murder, manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter) Forcible Rape, Attempted Rape 53 63 +19% Robbery 790 785 -1% Assault 1,661 1,653 0% Burglary 1,626 1,859 +14% Larceny-Theft 4,890 4,657 -5% Motor Vehicle Theft 1,391 1,297 -7% Arson 141 116 -18% Major Crimes Total 10,571 10,451 -1%

Source: Pasadena Police Department

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