Crediting aggressive crime-fighting strategies and partnerships with local cities, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced Wednesday that Lancaster and Palmdale and surrounding desert communities had seen a 10% reduction in overall crime last year.
That makes for the lowest crime rate in the Antelope Valley since 2001, Baca said.
Gang-related violent crimes dropped by 33% last year throughout the 1,370-square-mile region.
Law enforcement and Lancaster and Palmdale officials praised Baca, who launched a hard-hitting crime-fighting initiative in the valley in 2007, as the force behind the drop in crime. But the sheriff insisted the credit should be shared.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, January 23, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Antelope Valley crimes: An article in Thursday's California section about an overall drop in serious crimes in the Antelope Valley in 2008 misattributed a quote about an increase in rapes in Palmdale to Capt. Bobby Denham, head of the Los Angeles County sheriff's station in Palmdale. It quoted Denham as saying many of the cases were "boyfriend-girlfriend" incidents, as opposed to attacks by a stranger; the statement was made by Capt. Axel Anderson, head of the sheriff's station in Lancaster.
"It takes leadership from all sources," said Baca, addressing a news conference outside the Antelope Valley Courthouse in Lancaster. "The high desert is our great hope. We want to make this a shining example of how to do it right."
Highlights of the valley's 2008 crime statistics include a 55% decrease in homicides in Palmdale, which has recorded one killing since spring 2007, said Capt. Bobby Denham, head of the local sheriff's station.
Overall, the city saw a 16% drop in robberies, an 18% decline in aggravated assaults and a 13% reduction in burglaries, said Anne Ambrose, the city's director of public safety and community relations. There was also a 38% reduction in gang-related violent crimes, she said.
The only increase was in rapes, up from 34 cases in 2007 to 55 last year.
Many of these were "boyfriend-girlfriend" cases, as opposed to an attack by a stranger, Denham said.
But Baca said there is "no such thing as a mitigating rape," and more effort will be made to educate, particularly young people, that "if a woman says no, it's no."
Palmdale's anti-crime strategies include a Partners Against Crime team that, among other things, conducts parole and probation sweeps, pursues graffiti vandals and monitors residents who receive government housing benefits, to ensure they are in compliance.
The local sheriff's station has dedicated two units to identify and stop rowdy parties. The city also has 316 active Neighborhood Watch groups.
In Lancaster, officials reported 676 fewer serious crimes in 2008 than in the previous year, leading to an 11.3% reduction in such offenses. Gang-related crimes fell by 27%.
Capt. Axel Anderson, chief of the Lancaster sheriff's station, commended the city's mayor, R. Rex Parris, for his role in helping to tackle gang crimes. Known for his tough talk and no-nonsense attitude, Parris has introduced ordinances specifically designed to target gang members.
He "has put bad guys on notice out here that they're not welcome," Anderson said, adding that there are several dozen active gangs in the valley. Parris said he was determined to make Lancaster "the most inhospitable place in the country to commit a crime."
City officials noted a 19% drop in robberies and a 16% decline in homicides, while there was a nearly 29% reduction in arson. Grand theft auto plummeted from 845 cases in 2007 to 505 last year. But as in Palmdale, rapes were up, from 59 to 61 cases.
Lancaster's crime-fighting strategies include a Burglary Suppression Team, a Park Safety Patrol program and a special police squad that focuses on high-profile cases.
The Lancaster sheriff's station made 16,278 arrests last year, a 10% increase over the 14,733 arrests made in 2007 -- and the highest arrest total for any sheriff's station in the county, Anderson said.