Sheriff's investigators examine the scene of a fatal shooting in… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
The number of homicides in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's patrol areas fell to its lowest level since 1970, with 166 killings in 2012, Sheriff Lee Baca announced Wednesday.
The number of killings was four less than in 2011, a 2.3% drop. But serious crime increased 4.2% and all types of crime jumped 3%.
Violent crime — rape, robbery, aggravated assaults and murder — climbed 3.5% from 2011. Property crimes across the sheriff's areas rose 4.3%.
"This is really historic," Baca said, referring to the low homicide rate, during a news conference at sheriff's headquarters in Monterey Park.
He said the decline in homicides makes for a positive picture despite a slight upturn in so-called serious crime, which includes homicide, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, larceny, theft, burglary, grand theft auto and arson.
"We are feeling positive despite the slight increase," he said.
Baca said gangs remain the most serious issue, as was underscored by an AK-47 gun battle between rival gangs Tuesday that deputies came upon.
Because the Sheriff's Department patrols such a vast territory, there was a great deal of disparity in the numbers. The Crescenta Valley station saw a 4.3% drop in serious crimes; the Temple City and Compton stations reported 5% declines.
But the Avalon station on Catalina Island experienced a 17% jump in serious crime. Serious crime climbed 10.9% in West Hollywood, 9.3% in the Carson area and 8.5% in Lancaster when compared with 2011.
The number of deputy-involved shootings rose from 37 in 2011 to 49 in 2012, but most of the increase came from shootings in which no one was hit.
The Century station in Lynwood saw its number of homicides decline from 35 to 25.
The department's Homicide Bureau reported that overall gang homicides rose 10.5% compared with 2011, when it included killings it investigated in cities not patrolled by the Sheriff's Department.
With the exception of homicides, serious crime rose in every category by small percentages while remaining significantly less than five years ago. Reported rapes increased 1.8%; robberies 3.7%; and aggravated assaults 3.6% compared with 2011.
Property crimes rose in all categories in 2012: Burglaries climbed 3.4%, thefts 5.4%, car thefts 2.3% and arsons 1.2%.
While 2012 saw crime in the major categories climb, it remained significantly below the peaks of 1982-83 and 1992. In 1992, there were more than 144,000 serious crimes, compared with about 72,000 in 2012.