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Statistics Do Little to Clarify Policing Choice : Law enforcement: Overall crime dropped in the area patrolled by sheriff's deputies and rose in areas under Police Department jurisdiction. But the numbers are open to dispute.

March 19, 1992|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Overall crime went down last year in the Long Beach area patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, but it went up in the rest of town, which is patrolled by the Long Beach Police Department, according to statistics released by the city police.

In the one-fifth of the city patrolled by deputies, crime decreased 7.6% over the previous year, but it increased 2.4 % everywhere else.

But major crimes against people increased 27.5% in the sheriff's area--including a 50.6% increase in aggravated assault--compared to 5.1% in the rest of the city.

Whether the numbers indicate which agency is doing a better job of fighting crime depends on which statistics are considered, who is interpreting them and where the numbers came from. Conflicting data was released by the Sheriff's Department earlier this year, and some officials are questioning the numbers.

Overall, according to the Police Department, crime in Long Beach increased by 0.7% in 1991, but the number of murders and rapes took a nose dive.

Murders went down by 9.2% overall--a 9.7% drop in the Police Department's patrol area and a 6.2% drop in the sheriff's area. Rapes decreased 2.9% throughout Long Beach, compared to the previous year, falling 6% in the police patrol but rising 20% in the sheriff's part of town.

But crimes against property--burglary, larceny and auto theft, for example--dropped 13.2% in the sheriff's area compared to a decline of only 0.5% in the rest of the city.

The statistics have become increasingly important because they could be used to show the effectiveness of one patrol force over the other at a time when city officials are discussing abolishing the Police Department.

The City Council is considering a proposal to replace the department with sheriff's deputies, who began patrolling in Long Beach in November, 1990, as part of the city's efforts to boost the understaffed Police Department.

Authorities from both agencies--eager to avoid appearing critical of each other--have been reluctant to compare their successes and failures in fighting crime.

Lt. Gary Halliday, a Long Beach police spokesman, said he could not explain why crime reported in the sheriff's patrol area declined.

"I have no idea. Their numbers (from quarterly crime reports) have always been lower than ours. I don't know whether it's because of demographics or because they have more people."

Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Dennis Gillard would not discuss why his department appears to have done better than Long Beach police in decreasing crime.

But, he said, "We've directed our patrol efforts to resolving the complaints and problems of the community, and (we) became very visible."

Officials from both agencies were also vague about why statistics released earlier this year by the Sheriff's Department were different from those reported by the city. It remained unclear why the Sheriff's Department announced in January that crime in the deputy-patrolled areas dropped by 15.8% in 1991, but the city said last week that crime in those parts of town decreased by 7.6%.

"I've never seen the number (7.6%) you're giving me," said Sheriff's Sgt. Harry Bovie, a supervisor for Long Beach deputies. "First, we had 15.8%. Then it dropped to 14.7%. Then it went down to 12.6%--that was just last Friday or Thursday."

And a different number was released during a Feb. 25 City Council meeting. A Sheriff's Department spokesman reported a 14% decrease in crime in north Long Beach, where neat tree-lined neighborhoods are bordered by run-down corridors such as Atlantic Avenue, and crime has been increasing for years. In the park-studded northeastern part of town, which enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the city, crime decreased by 7% last year, council members were told last month.

Yet, in the figures released last week, residents in north Long Beach saw only a 4.4% decrease, and those living in the northeastern section saw a 12.3% drop in the deputy-patrolled area.

"This whole thing is real confusing. And I know crime stats," said Councilman Les Robbins, a sheriff's deputy who represents District 5 in northeast Long Beach.

Councilman Warren Harwood, who represents District 9 in North Long Beach, said he, too, is concerned about the crime statistics. "I don't know if they're right or wrong," he said.

Late last year, it became clear to city officials that there were significant differences in the way Long Beach police and sheriff's deputies tally crimes.

City Manager James C. Hankla appointed Deputy City Manager Joe Rouzan to sift through the two agencies' crime statistics and procedures and determine why they were reporting different numbers for the same areas.

Some of those discrepancies have been resolved, Rouzan said, but he is still working to figure out other differences.

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