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Crime Is Down in Skid Row

Officials say a greater police presence is working. There were 830 arrests in the last month.

October 07, 2006|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton said Friday that a new initiative to reduce lawlessness on skid row is showing encouraging results.

They reported a decline in serious crimes, a drop in the number of street homeless and 830 arrests in the last month, about half for drug dealing.

But Bratton cautioned that a 50-officer strike force deployed along with undercover narcotics detectives as part of the Safer City Initiative will need to work skid row long-term. He also said the police alone cannot address skid row's homeless problem.

"We are seeing fewer people sleeping on the streets. We are seeing few tents erected, more officers patrolling the area and we have more arrests," said Bratton at a media briefing. "This is not a short-term effort; those officers will remain in that area until we feel we have a significant turnaround."

The Central Division, which includes the 50 blocks of skid row, saw its serious crimes drop from 422 in September 2005 to 333 this September. The number of people sleeping on the streets as counted by police has dropped 30%, from 1,876 on Sept. 18 to 1,447 on Oct. 1. But the number of tents fell by only 21 to 497. Of 830 arrests, 83% were for felonies, with 414 being narcotics sales. A one-day snapshot of serious crimes on Wednesday showed there were six, compared with 24 on Oct. 4, 2005.

Most of the felony arrests were made by undercover detectives, who began Aug. 30, rather than the uniformed officers who rolled out in the strike force Sept. 24.

Villaraigosa said he was encouraged by the early results but he emphasized it is not a plan to arrest the homeless and his administration is seeking housing solutions, including funding new low-cost units.

"No administration in L.A.'s history has ever allocated $229 million for permanent supportive housing," he said.

The Sept. 24 deployment occurred just days after the City Council rejected a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union in a suit over a sidewalk sleeping ban. In April, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU in ruling the law amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and was unconstitutional because of a lack of housing.

Earlier this week, officers made six daytime arrests under the ordinance after the city attorney advised police that the ruling applied only to nighttime arrests. Though they are expected to present a revised proposal to the council that would allow daytime arrests, ACLU officials denounced the arrests.

Others also have concerns. Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., which represents businesses, said the organization supports the policing but believes the city is failing in its responsibility to remove items left by transients.

"If one of the merchants left junk on the sidewalk" she said, the merchant would be cited and the junk would be taken away.

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