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Violent Crime Dips in L.A., Police Say : LAPD: All nine central city divisions post declines in homicides, robberies, rapes and assaults since January.

July 23, 1995|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Violent crime decreased in central Los Angeles during the first half of the year, continuing a trend that has seen the number of homicides, robberies, rapes and assaults drop by 20% citywide over the last two years, police say.

All nine Los Angeles Police Department divisions that patrol the central city area posted declines in violent crime since January. The decrease ranged from 20% in the Central Division, which serves the Downtown area, to 0.1% in the Rampart Division west of Downtown.

The overall crime rate, which includes thefts and burglaries, declined in all but two of the urban patrol divisions, which cover an area from Echo Park to Watts and from Baldwin Hills to Boyle Heights. The decrease ranged from 15.9% in Central Division to 1.4% in Newton Division.

The exceptions were a 0.9% increase in Wilshire Division and a 2.6% increase in the Hollenbeck Division on the Eastside. Hollenbeck's increase was mainly due to a jump in burglaries and auto thefts.

Property crime was down in the division last year, but Hollenbeck Detective Dennis Bisdorf said a recent increase in the area's homeless population has helped fuel a resurgence.

"A lot of [homeless] are honest people just looking for bottles and cans, but a lot of them are pushing their shopping carts around as a ploy to scope out businesses [to burglarize]," he said.

The decline in crime in Los Angeles' urban core over the last two years follows a nationwide trend in which crime rates fell after peaking in the early 1990s.

USC Prof. Cheryl Maxon, who studies national crime trends, said the latest crime statistics may be nothing more than a reflection of a more "normal circumstance" after a period of unusually high crime.

In Los Angeles, however, police and community activists attribute the lower crime rate to a variety of factors, from more police patrols and increased citizen vigilance to changing demographics and fear of reporting crime.

Capt. Alan Kerstein of the Southeast Division attributed part of the 11.8% drop in all categories of crime in his area to a personnel shuffle that allowed the division to add at least one additional patrol car each shift.

The extra officers, he said, deter robberies and thefts in the division, which covers Watts and part of South-Central Los Angeles.

Still, Kerstein acknowledged the additional patrols did little to chip away at the division's homicide rate, the highest in the city. The division had 47 homicides from January through June, about one-sixth of the 352 citywide.

"A lot of the homicides in our area are gang-related, and unfortunately there isn't a lot visible patrols can do," he said. The gangs "just wait for the black-and-white [police car] to go by and then they commit their drive-bys."

Another tool that has helped reduce crime is the department's new computerized crime analysis system, said Deputy Chief Robert Gil, who oversees five central area police divisions.

The system tabulates crime statistics and pinpoints hot spots on printouts, which are given to patrol officers. "This way, they know what areas to patrol frequently between radio calls," Gil said.

Among the areas Gil supervises is Central Division, which posted fewer crimes than any of the Police Department's 17 other divisions. Part of the reason for the decrease in the division is a citizen foot patrol that combs the streets of Little Tokyo twice a week, said shopkeeper Satoru Uyeda. The program began about three years ago.

"Crime is significantly less than it was before then," said Uyeda, 51, who has lived in the area his whole life. He said the patrol has been particularly effective in helping curb car burglaries.

In addition to crime-fighting efforts, South Bureau Lt. Mike Downing attributed the lower rates in part to the increase in non-English speakers in the city. Many residents don't report crimes because they don't think they'll be able to communicate with officers, unaware that they are proficient in a variety of languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Korean.

And immigrants in the country illegally may not report crime out of fear of deportation, Downing said.

Police crime analyst Milt Stevens said another demographic trend may also have a hand in the slowdown in crime: age.

The decline in the crime rate, he said, mirrors a decrease in the number of young men between 17 and 23 years old--the group responsible for most crimes.

"When that group was expanding, they were a large source of crime," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Violence in the City

Most Police Department divisions that patrol central Los Angeles report decreases in crime for the first half of the year. Community activists attribute the lower crime rate to a variety of factors, from more police patrols and increased citizen awareness to changing demographics.

AGGRAVATED DIVISION HOMICIDE RAPE ROBBERY ASSAULT TOTAL % CHANGE Central 15 24 703 487 5,165 -15.9 Hollenbeck 30 17 615 832 5,605 +2.6 Newton 30 30 956 1,071 6,304 -1.4 Northeast 17 26 607 825 6,633 -11.1 Rampart 44 55 1,254 1,657 8,513 -3.4 Southwest 22 72 1,192 1,283 7,874 -9.5 77th 29 69 1,129 1,649 7,028 -3.2 Southeast 47 50 1,061 1,677 6,140 -11.8 Wilshire 30 57 1,473 1,313 10,890 +0.9

Source: Los Angeles Police Department

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