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Mean Streets Once More : Crime: Police presence during deliberations in the King case cut violence dramatically--but it had to end.

April 23, 1993|MILES CORWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a week of relative calm, when the number of murders, robberies and other major crimes dropped significantly, Los Angeles was back to normal Thursday. The corpses were stacked up at the county coroner's office; police were deluged with calls; paramedic crews were picking up the bodies after drive-by shootings.

For a week, Los Angeles had a respite from its usual level of mayhem. The city's crime level dipped while the jury deliberated during the Rodney G. King civil rights trial and for a few days after the verdicts.

It didn't last.

"Everything's started all over again," said Sgt. Mike Diaz of the Rampart Division. "The city was low-key for a week, and then I guess people just got comfortable again and started doing the things they usually do."

The period of quietude was broken Wednesday, when there were eight murders, two carjackings and a series of drive-by shootings, bar fights, stabbings, violent domestic disputes and a variety of other assorted crimes.

"Crimes come in waves and so do periods of calm," said Ed Turley, deputy director of Youth Gang Services. "We had our wave of calm . . . then it passed."

Los Angeles is a city that averages seven homicides a day and more than 2,000 a year. A day without murder is noteworthy. But two days in a seven-day period without a murder signifies a remarkable week in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, there were no homicides in Los Angeles, no homicides on the previous Tuesday and fewer than the average number of homicides in between.

"I can't remember the last time this has happened," said C. Scott Carrier, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner. "It's a very, very infrequent thing."

In addition to the drop in violent crime, there were fewer fires in the county, fewer 911 calls and fewer paramedic responses, county fire officials said. There are various interpretations for Los Angeles' week of calm.

The threat of riots actually kept some criminals away from the city, Diaz said.

"The traffic here was a lot less transient," Diaz said. "Usually a lot of the people picked up for crimes like narcotics are from outside the city. We saw a lot less of those kinds of people during the past week. I think a lot of them just stayed out of town during this period of time."

A number of community programs, such as Neighbor to Neighbor and Operation Cool Response, contributed to the drop in crime, according to Turley.

"This was a good example of what we can do to address crime in our community without relying solely on law enforcement," Turley said. "All the community meetings, the planning, the people going door-to-door created a certain mood."

Both the potential victims and potential perpetrators of crimes stayed inside, said Inglewood Police Sgt. Alex Perez.

"People were very concerned about the possibility of trouble, so they kept at home and made no unnecessary trips," Perez said. "The bad guys were watching television and saw there were more cops out there per square inch than ever before. They didn't like the odds, so a lot of them stayed inside too."

The LAPD added 600 officers to street duty when the deliberations began, which was the main reason the crime rate fell, Chief Willie L. Williams said. Homicides dropped by 20% during the first five days of jury deliberations, he said, and assaults and robberies fell by 10%. On Saturday, the day the verdicts were announced, police reported receiving only 15,000 calls for help, down from a typical Saturday level of about 20,000.

"It was nice for a while . . . fewer shootings, fewer problems, less action on the streets," said Sgt. Ted Maillet of the Southeast Division. "But Wednesday . . . wow. Everything was back to normal. I'm still busy trying to clean up all the garbage from yesterday."

The crime rate also dropped at a number of Sheriff's Department stations. During one 48-hour period, there was not a single homicide in the department's jurisdiction, a highly unusual occurrence, Sgt. Larry Lincoln said.

"It's a sad state of affairs in this city," Lincoln said, "that it's major news when we don't have any murders."

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