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Perceptions Aside, Statistics Show a Drop in Crime : Law enforcement: Violent incidents such as murder, aggravated assault and rape have fallen drastically this year, police figures reveal.

November 13, 1994|SUSAN STEINBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Belying the public's rising fear of crime, the number of violent crimes on the Westside has dropped substantially in the first 10 months of the year, reflecting a citywide trend.

From January to Oct. 21, the most recent figures available, the number of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults declined 12.9% throughout Los Angeles, according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics. Of the LAPD's 18 divisions, only the Harbor Division reported an increase in violent crime, with a 6% jump--following a 12.6% decline during the same period in 1993.

Violent crimes fell a total of 25.6% in the West Los Angeles Division, with incidents of robberies plummeting 36% within the division's boundaries. There was a 24% decrease in robberies in the Wilshire Division during the 10-month period.

In the Hollywood Division, the number of homicides fell to 24 for the first 10 months of the year from 38 during the same period in 1993.

The Pacific Division reported significantly fewer rapes, down from 90 last year to 57 this year--a 37% decline. All violent crimes in the division dropped 10.5% from last year.

Citywide, robberies were down almost 20% and homicides dropped 24%, from 866 to 661.

Although LAPD officials say they are pleased with the drop in crime, law enforcement officials and crime analysts agree that the reasons behind the decrease are varied.

"Crime is an immensely complex, multifaceted problem. I just have to speculate on why this has happened," said LAPD Deputy Chief Ron Frankle, commander of the four Westside divisions of the West Bureau.

The LAPD's emphasis on crime prevention through Neighborhood Watch and other volunteer programs is probably helping to lower the rate of violent crimes, Frankle said.

"I think people are getting impatient about crime, so they're looking out for each other more. They're checking up on each others' homes, cars and businesses," he said.

Mike Markulis, director of the Delinquency Control Institute at the USC Center for Administration of Justice, said the statistics are a positive sign, but it is too soon to call the drop a trend.

Markulis, a retired LAPD commander, gave high marks to the police, attributing the improved statistics to the department's emphasis on community-oriented policing.

"As a department, LAPD has always been very dedicated to getting the community involved, with Neighborhood Watch and beat-policing programs," Markulis said.

Frankle added that upgrading the department's computer system has helped police officials better track where crimes are occurring, allowing commanders to more efficiently deploy officers to crime-ridden zones rather than trying to patrol vast distances.

"We're trying to work smarter, not just harder," he said.

Part I offenses, which include violent crimes and repressible crimes such as burglary and auto theft, have been decreasing statewide, said Detective Bob Stresak, supervisor of the LAPD's crime analysis unit. The department has seen one of the biggest drops in recent years in most categories, with homicides going down by almost a quarter this year, he said.

"I guess the base question is why and that is what we just don't know," Stresak said.

At one time, Stresak said, he would have tried to determine a single reason for the decline, but now he is less willing to pin it on any one variable.

Perhaps more people are obeying the law, he suggested, or maybe improvements in private security systems are making life more difficult for criminals.

Another possibility is that career criminals are getting older and are committing fewer crimes than they did when they were between the high-crime ages of 13 and 26 years old, Stresak said.

The seasons also impact crime, Stresak noted. For example, crime at the beach drops in January or when it's cold; not surprisingly, criminal incidents go up in July.

The Northridge earthquake may have played a role in keeping crime down. If natural disasters don't keep criminals off the streets, they keep potential victims at home, he said.

"I wish managing crime was like managing an assembly line," Stresak said. "Instead, when we're managing the intangible concept of crime. It's much more difficult with many more variables."

But why, if crime is going down, is the public's fear factor increasing?

The problem may lay more in people's perception of crime, the officers said.

If a radio is stolen from a BMW in Cheviot Hills, the car owner is likely to perceive the theft as a serious problem. But if the same incident occurred in a geographical area that has more crime, a stolen radio does not generate the same level of fear, Stresak said.

"Maybe L.A. is not the crime mecca people think it is. But their perception of crime still creates significant fear," said Frankle.

With that fear in mind, the LAPD needs to continue to look at many aspects of policing, and not merely remain content with the lower rates, he said.

"We need to see that our cases and emergency calls are quickly and properly handled," Frankle said. "And we need to look to improve the quality of life that is not necessarily attached to those statistics.

"We think we're headed in the right direction, but when I see a downward trend for several years, then I'll be really happy."

Downward Trend

Violent crime dropped significantly for the Jan. 1 to Oct. 21 period this year compared with 1993. The number of crimes in the Westside's four LAPD divisions, and the change from 1993:

% % % AGG. % DIVISION MURDER CHANGE RAPE CHANGE ROBBERY CHANGE ASSAULT CHANGE Hollywood 24 -36.8 97 +2 1,863 -26.5 1,743 -5.1 Pacific 22 +22 57 -36.6 966 -19.6 1,150 +.5 West L.A. 8 0 43 +34.4 715 -36.7 671 -12.9 Wilshire 46 -20.7 88 -18.5 2,335 -24.2 2,221 -7.6

% DIVISION TOTAL CHANGE Hollywood 3,727 -17.3 Pacific 2,195 -10.5 West L.A. 1,437 -25.9 Wilshire 4,690 -17

Source: Los Angeles Police Department

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