While crime rose across Los Angeles last year, Inglewood proved an unlikely exception, recording a sharp drop in homicides.
The city got national attention last year because of a videotaped beating of a 16-year-old by two Inglewood police officers, but Inglewood officials prefer to highlight a 26% decline in homicides.
Authorities say the biggest reason for the drop in the number of slayings was a decline in gang activity -- or at least gang-related crimes -- in the city of 120,000 people on the border of Los Angeles.
"In Inglewood, our homicide rates are tied to gang activity," said Inglewood police Detective Bureau Capt. John R. Frazier. "If we get less gang activity over a period of time, we reduce the number of homicides."
Police officials also pointed to community policing programs, the hiring of additional police officers and neighborhood beautification efforts.
Overall, the number of homicides dropped from 38 to 28, according to the state Department of Justice. By contrast, homicides increased by 11% in 2002 statewide and in Los Angeles.
Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn said reductions in homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults got lost amid the negative publicity surrounding the beating of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson last July, and portrayals of the city as unsafe.
Dorn attributed the drop in crime "to good police work -- and the economy was good at the time."
He added, "Inglewood has always been a safe place. I've always walked in the city. I've always gone everywhere I've wanted to go in the city.'
Khalid Shah, executive director of Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace Foundation, which serves youths and crime victims' families, said organizations like his -- coupled with community involvement -- helped prevent the killing of more people last year.
"The little dip we might have seen in 2002 is a result of a concentrated effort to keep attention on the need to deal with violence-related issues," Shah said. He said those efforts need to be constant because of the overall upswing in killing and violence since 1999.
Besides homicides, Inglewood also saw drastic decreases in other categories of crime, including robberies and aggravated assaults, which dropped 21% and 46%, respectively.
But officials said the decrease in the assault numbers was the result of changes in the way the city reported those numbers to the state. In much the same way that aggravated assaults increased in the 1980s because of requirements to report domestic violence, there has been a large decrease because the state has asked that departments stop counting some types of simple assaults as aggravated assaults.
Inglewood officials said the decrease was all the more welcome because of the negative publicity surrounding the arrest of Jackson.
Officer Jeremy Morse was fired in October and charged with assault under color of authority for allegedly using force in the arrest of the African American teenager.
Morse's partner, Bijan Darvish, was suspended and faces charges of filing a false police report about the incident. A bystander videotaped the July 6 encounter at a gas station; the tape appeared to show Morse slamming a handcuffed Jackson onto the trunk of a patrol car and then striking him.