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Violent Crime Declines Drastically in Central L.A.


Violent crime in central Los Angeles has substantially decreased in the first nine months of the year, reflecting a citywide trend in which the number of murders, robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 17.3% compared with the same period last year.

From January to September, the latest month for which figures are available, all but one of the Los Angeles Police Department's 18 divisions registered drastic reductions in violent crime, with the exception being the Harbor Division. Violent crime there increased 6%, although the division still has one of the lowest crime rates.

The Central Division had a 45% decrease in robberies and a 36% decrease in rapes compared to the same period last year. The Rampart Division is far below last year's murder figures. To date, Rampart has had 72 murders, compared with 107 homicides at this time last year, according to LAPD statistics.

Property crimes, which include burglaries and auto thefts, also decreased in all of the LAPD's divisions by 13.9%, according to officials from the LAPD crime analysis unit.

Most experts cautioned, however, that the trend may not signal a long-term decrease in crime, which has risen steadily over the last three decades.

"This year's decrease in crime is not as significant as it might seem. Crime rates have been high since the '60s and have been steadily climbing since then," said Richard Scribner, a USC professor of preventive medicine who recently completed an extensive study of factors that affect crime.

"So, although there have been decreases of 10% to 14% in the crime rates over the years, these decreases should be seen in the context of the previous decades. If you look at the big picture, these crime rate fluctuations are just blips in an overall trend that is continuing to climb."

Deputy Police Chief Robert Gil, who commands the Central Bureau, which consists of four divisions at the core of the city, was cautiously pleased with the recent decrease. But, like Scribner, he saw no reason to celebrate.

"The decrease is great, but I think we should look at the long-term crime rates, not this year's rates, which are just compared to last year's figures," Gil said.

Police, crime analysts and residents had various theories to explain the recent decrease. But the prevailing theory holds that the decrease may be attributable in part to a population decline among 13- to 26-year-olds, who account for most of the people committing violent crimes.

"There is a population window of 13- to 26-year-olds who commit the crimes, and as the window of candidates moves on in life they commit fewer crimes," said Detective Bob Stresak, supervisor of the LAPD crime analysis unit.


USC sociology professor Malcolm Klein, who has studied Los Angeles crime trends since 1962, agreed with Stresak's theory but added that in 10 years the baby boomlet of the late 1980s will once again boost the size of the crime-prone age.

The January earthquake also may have contributed to the decrease. Crime rates tend to dip after natural disasters, Stresak said.

The Police Department has not taken much credit for the decrease. Milt Stevens, an LAPD management analyst, said that because the number of arrests have not increased, the department's role in the decrease is inconclusive. And in the wake of such violent incidents as the killing of three people and wounding of five in a multiple shooting last week in South-Central Los Angeles, officers remain busy.

"We still fill the patrol cars, because even with the decline in crime there are still plenty of things to do--we are not experiencing any shortage of crime," Stevens said.

The figures have also provided more fuel to a long-simmering debate over the relationship of liquor stores and crime.

Scribner's study found that areas with high densities of alcohol outlets have high crime rates.


More than 50% of all violent crimes involve alcohol, Scribner says, and with an abundance of mini-marts, mom-and-pop grocery stores and liquor stores, south Los Angeles had been particularly susceptible to crime.

But half of the liquor stores in south Los Angeles burned in the 1992 riots.

"Is the destruction of these alcohol outlets linked to the low crime rates? What we are seeing is consistent with our theory," said Scribner, whose study will be published in the American Journal of Public Health in January.

"The fights, the people having a little too much to drink and cussing people out--the kinds of things that make you feel unsafe--have decreased since our local liquor store has been gone," said Sylvia Lacy, whose dry-cleaning business on 51st and Main streets in South-Central Los Angeles was across the street from a liquor store that burned down during the riots.

But liquor store owners have hotly contested the suggestion that their businesses are a major contributor to crime.

James Colquitt, owner for seven years of Fair Way Liquor on Hoover and 54th streets, said gang and drug activity are more often behind violent crime than alcohol.

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