Bratton touts drop in crime

The L.A. chief uses the occasion to urge voters to back a tax measure on next month’s ballot.
By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 3, 2008
LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday that the city’s historic five-year drop in crime could be threatened in 2008 if voters don’t approve a February ballot measure extending a telephone utility users tax.Bratton’s statement heightened the stakes in the referendum, which city leaders placed on the ballot after court and administrative rulings jeopardized $243 million in city revenues.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has repeatedly said he would protect the Los Angeles Police Department from cuts and press on with the goal of adding 1,000 officers by 2010. Bratton said he believes serious crime, down nearly 5% in 2007, could fall another 5% this year — if the LAPD doesn’t see any more cutbacks. But Bratton said he has not decided on a formal crime-reduction goal, in part because of uncertainty over the pending vote.

“It’s going to be very dependent on these budget issues,” Bratton said. “If the city were to lose that approximately $250 million, all bets are off as to what’s going to happen to this city.”

The chief’s comments came as he and Villaraigosa on Wednesday held a news conference at Watts Towers to announce another year of falling crime numbers. The city in 2007 recorded the fewest homicides in 37 years, 392, down from 476 the year before.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said he is skeptical that the city, in the event of cutbacks, would trim police officers before parking enforcement personnel or tree trimmers.

“Officials always threaten what the public values most when they are trying to get more of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

But Councilman Dennis Zine, a fiscal conservative who initially balked at the tax measure, said he changed his mind after becoming convinced that police and fire would suffer a “huge hit” if the tax is not approved. “If the measure doesn’t succeed, we are in for a rude awakening in public safety.”

Los Angeles voters will be asked in a special election Feb. 5., the day of California’s presidential primary, to approve a 9% telephone utility users tax to replace a decades-old levy that, because of changes in Washington, became vulnerable to legal challenges.

The City Council tried to reauthorize the 10% levy last year, but a taxpayer swiftly filed a challenge, citing Proposition 218, the 1996 ballot initiative that requires a public vote on most new taxes.

Villaraigosa persuaded council members to seek a 9% tax so he would bill it as a tax cut.

A city budget analyst has warned that losing the tax revenues could force layoffs of thousands of police officers.

Bratton, during the conference, said that while community activists and political leaders play a key role, officers ultimately determine crime rates.

“It’s not demographics, it’s not the economy, it’s not the weather,” Bratton said. “What makes a difference is cops focused on crime — cops who believe they can make a difference.”

Bratton said the department now has 9,608 officers. By the end of 2008, the force is expected to have more officers than any time in its history.

LAPD officials estimated the per capita crime rate last year was 290 for every 10,000 people. In 1956, when the city had 1.9 million fewer residents, the rate was 385 per 10,000.

The Watts area alone last year saw a nearly 50% drop in homicides, according to LAPD crime statistics.

Bratton said gang killings still account for 54% of the city’s homicides. But progress can be made in this area, he said.

“Gang crime or gang-influenced crime is where it is at in this city like nowhere else in the nation.”

Villaraigosa said four out of five Angelenos murdered last year were shot to death , “If we’re going to continue our success in reducing gang violence, we must go after guns. Make no mistake about that,” he said.

“In the coming days, weeks and months, the chief and I will outline specific strategies to continue our effort to reduce gang violence by taking illegal guns off the streets of Los Angeles and the repeat offenders who use them,” the mayor said.

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