Amid an ongoing drop in overall city crime rates, Los Angeles this summer recorded the fewest number of homicides in more than four decades.
From the beginning of June through the end of August, there were 84 homicides in Los Angeles -- a level of relative calm not seen since the summer of 1967, when the city had 79 killings over the same period. By comparison, summer bloodshed in the city peaked in 1991, when there were 323 slayings during the same three months. More recently, the totals have hovered around 125 killings each summer over the last decade.
Police Chief William J. Bratton highlighted the numbers Tuesday during his weekly briefing to the Police Commission, the civilian body that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department. The drop in homicides was part of a larger trend for a city that has seen a steady and significant decline in the number of violent crimes and property crimes in recent years. So far this year, all categories of the so-called Part 1 crimes, including rape, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide, are lower than the comparable 2007 figures.
The number of reported rapes, for example, was down by more than 14%, and auto thefts have fallen by more than 7%.
But it is the homicide rate that draws the most attention and serves as the bellwether for city leaders, the media and residents assessing violence in the city.
After 394 killings in 2007 -- the lowest annual tally in about four decades -- Bratton, his command staff and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa found themselves at a loss to explain a sudden and confounding surge in killings during the first months of this year. At their worst, killings were up nearly 40% over last year. The surge came amid several high-profile, dramatic killings, adding to the widely held fear that the city's run of falling crime rates had come to an end.
But despite growing public anxiety, Bratton deflected such concerns. He called the rise an anomaly and predicted that the homicide rate would reverse itself. Today, the year's homicide rate is down by 8.5% compared to the same period last year -- a drop spurred in part by a 27% drop in gang-related killings.
"Its a continuing good-news story that's moving forward," Bratton said.
The blunt-talking chief has long chafed at conventional wisdom and research that points to a link between increased killings and outside factors such as hot summer temperatures and a declining economy. He was no different this week, attributing the numbers to the work of his officers and ongoing anti-crime efforts by the mayor and community groups.
"Unemployment is up, the economy is not that good in this city -- a lot of the things that the so-called experts always predict will cause crimes to go up. But it's not happening here," Bratton said.
The department, he said, is on pace to meet its goal of a 5% overall drop in violent crimes and property crimes this year. Bratton credited the continued decline in part to "putting cops on the dots" -- sounding his oft-repeated mantra that refers to the department's use of detailed crime maps to redeploy officers to hot spots. Early efforts in the mayor's revamped anti-gang initiative and hiring hundreds of new officers are also contributing factors, Bratton said.