Despite the tough economic times, both violent and property crimes are down significantly in areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department so far in 2009, Sheriff Lee Baca said Monday.
The biggest drop in any major crime category is in homicides, down 23.5% through Sept. 18 this year compared with the same period in 2008, according to Baca.
Crime has decreased despite an economic downturn that has hit particularly hard in some relatively poor neighborhoods patrolled by the Sheriff's Department, including Compton and unincorporated South L.A.
Baca predicted more than a year ago that the ailing economy could result in crime increases, but that has so far not materialized. Unemployment in the county in August stood at 12.3%. Many criminologists maintain that crime is tied to the economy more than to the work of police.
The sheriff said, however, that crime has dropped because both his department and the Los Angeles Police Department have maintained officers on the streets of tough neighborhoods despite budget cuts.
"We know there is an unemployment issue. We know the economy is struggling and . . . we are going to keep on working even harder," Baca said.
The sheriff said his deputies are increasingly working with the LAPD and using technology to track crime patterns so they know where they need to be to prevent crime.
Overall, violent crime dropped nearly 10% in the dozens of communities that the Sheriff's Department patrols, running from the Antelope Valley on the north to the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the south and San Dimas on the east. Property crimes also declined 11% so far in 2009 compared with 2008. There have been 153 homicides so far in 2009, 48 fewer than last year.
The Sheriff's Department statistics are echoed in the city of Los Angeles, where homicides are down 16.6%, violent crime has dropped 8% and property crime has declined 7%.
The sheriff's stations in Lancaster and Avalon on Catalina Island reported the biggest drops in major crimes, 22.3% and 28.6% respectively. The numbers include violent and property crimes.
Homicides in the Lakewood station area dropped from 19 in the same period of last year to seven so far this year. The East L.A. station's homicides declined from 15 to eight. Lancaster station's dropped from 17 to 10.
George E. Tita, associate professor of criminology at UC Irvine, said the L.A. area's decline in crime in the face of an economic downturn continues to stir debate among experts.
"This definitely shows the value of saturation policing. The question is can they keep the numbers low like the LAPD has done," Tita said.
The success was not universal. Major crimes increased in the Altadena station area by 9.3% and in the West Hollywood station area by 3.7%.
Despite the overall crime drop, the number of fatal deputy-involved shootings rose. The number of fatal shootings involving sheriff's deputies has risen from five in all of 2008 to 13 so far this year, including three in the last weekend.