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Los Angeles crime rates plunge despite weak economy

Homicides decline to levels not seen since the 1960s. 'It's a different world,' Chief Charlie Beck says.

December 24, 2009|By Joel Rubin and Richard Winton

Richard B. Rosenfeld, president of the American Society of Criminology, added that the federal government's decision to extend unemployment benefits may have staved off some crime. And unlike the massive surge in crime during the economic turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1990s that was fueled, in part, by the explosion of crack cocaine sales, the current financial problems have not been accompanied by a dramatic influx of illegal narcotics, Rosenfeld said.

Kelling and Rosenfeld emphasized that much of the credit for the extended decline in Los Angeles belongs to the LAPD, which has continued to refine crime-fighting strategies and strengthen ties with community groups in neighborhoods where it was once viewed with distrust and hostility.

With city and county budget woes promising to worsen in coming years, however, Rosenfeld cautioned that the ability of the LAPD and Sheriff's Department to keep up the gains depends on whether elected officials manage to continue to fund the two agencies at levels that allow them to maintain their ranks and strategies.

"Smart policing is not cheap," said Rosenfeld, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Whether it will continue to succeed depends on whether communities can afford it."

Since being appointed last month, Beck has echoed that notion, warning that the department will not be able to sustain current crime levels, let alone improve on them, if budget cuts force the LAPD to shrink.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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