The number of murders rose slightly last year in the San Gabriel Valley, but gang-related slayings were down, contrary to the record-breaking climb in gang murders countywide to 800.
According to preliminary statistics provided by law enforcement agencies, there were 183 murders in the San Gabriel Valley last year, compared to 178 in 1991, a 2.8% increase.
But gang-related slayings decreased by 7.7%, from 65 in 1991 to 60 last year. Fourteen cities reported no gang-related murders for either year.
"They just couldn't shoot straight," West Covina Police Cmdr. John Distelrath said of gang members in his city, which saw its murder total drop to four last year from 15 in 1991.
West Covina also saw a drop in gang-related deaths, from six in 1991 to one last year. But luck, not police work or changed behavior, was the reason, Distelrath said.
"We had 20 gang shootings last year and the year before," he said. "One guy this year got shot six times in the chest and lived. Another guy was shot four times and lived. It was just one of those phenomenons."
Although some South-Central Los Angeles gang members moved into West Covina in the wake of rioting after not guilty verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating case, gang incidents last year remained at about 1991 levels, the commander said.
Distelrath's observations were echoed by other San Gabriel Valley law enforcement officials, who called the regionwide decrease in gang-related murders a statistical variation.
While police in Compton and some Los Angeles neighborhoods credited a black gang truce earlier last year with reducing gang-related murders there, authorities said the truce had little observable effect in the San Gabriel Valley, with its mix of Latino, black and Asian gangs.
"One year it's up, one year it's down," Pasadena Police Lt. Wayne Hiltz said of the murder tallies. "There's really no statistical significance you can draw based on fluctuations from year to year."
Pasadena gang members committed 119 reported crimes last year, a decrease from 145 in 1991. But despite that downturn, gang-related killings still increased in the city from five to seven, Hiltz said.
Pasadena's murder total last year rose to 18, compared to 15 in 1991.
Overall, the number of murders increased in 14 of 29 San Gabriel Valley cities and in the unincorporated area served by the Sheriff's Department. The increases were small, usually one or two deaths in each city.
Gang-related murders increased in only seven cities and the unincorporated area, again, usually by only one or two deaths.
Pomona, the San Gabriel Valley's most populous city, was the lone exception to the favorable regional statistics. Murders there zoomed from 25 in 1991 to 36 last year, a 44% increase.
"We had a very exceptional year, obviously, compared to the year before," Pomona Police Chief Lloyd Wood said of the total. "But we're in the 30s more often than the 20s."
Pomona's gang-related murders increased by two, but police said it was an increase in line with the total upswing in murders. Further, police pointed out that some gang members left the city last year.
Other cities that logged murder increases in 1992 included El Monte, whose tally rose to 17 murders last year compared to 13 in 1991, and La Puente, which saw 13 murders last year compared to 10 in 1991.