L.A. homicide rates drop significantly

CRIME: Decline is largest among major cities in the U.S., officials say.
By Tony Castro and Jason Kandel, Staff Writers

Homicide rates in Los Angeles plummeted by nearly one-third in the first four months of this year, the largest drop of any major U.S. city, officials said Thursday.

The decline from 140 homicides during the first four months of 2008 to 97 through April of this year comes as the Los Angeles Police Department nears its recruiting goal of 10,000 sworn officers.

“What this really means is that cops count,” Police Chief William Bratton said during a news conference. “The more cops we have, the more we can do.”

The decline in Los Angeles’ homicide rate was significantly better than any other major city. New York, where Bratton was police commissioner before moving to the West Coast, saw a drop of 20 percent, followed by Chicago, with 16 percent, and Houston, with 15 percent.

Las Vegas, however, saw a whopping increase of 45 percent.

The report issued Thursday also showed significant drops in citywide gang-related crimes from 2008 to 2009. They include homicide (down 30 percent); carjacking (down 28 percent) and rape (down 22 percent).

And in the San Fernando Valley, homicides showed a year-over-year decline of 25 percent, from 25 to 18, while violent crime dropped 7 percent.

“We’re very happy with the success of not only our officers and detectives but with the impact the community is having hardening the target and working effectively with the Police Department,” said Deputy Chief Michel Moore, the top law enforcement officer in the Valley.

Despite the city’s near historic unemployment rate, Valley property crimes declined nearly 7 percent. There were more than 800 fewer crimes, with auto theft the leader – though the figure in that crime category dropped nearly 20 percent.

Spousal abuse and child abuse incidents in the Valley dropped nearly 6 percent.

There were 16 percent fewer shooting victims in the Valley – 68 versus 81. That’s nearly 40 percent lower than two years ago when there were 111.

“As we look across the Valley, all the areas, with the exception of Topanga, have crime reductions,” said Moore. “Yet they lead the city in violent crime reduction – 28 percent.”

Topanga has been hard hit by residential burglaries and thefts, Moore said, adding that police are aggressively working on the problem.

The challenge remains gang crime, Moore said. Although such crime is down 35 percent in Van Nuys, the Valley’s gang crime figures dropped only 3 percent.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Moore said. “We have pockets.”

The city crime-reduction goal remains 15 percent. In the Valley, Moore said it is set at 20 percent.

“We are encouraged that overall violence is down as much as it is.”

The citywide figures were released Thursday morning by Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa said he hopes the downward crime trend in the city continues despite the bad economy. He defended his ongoing plan to beef up the LAPD to 10,000 officers.

“Though the critics may call for a change, though some may want us to stop our public safety effort in its tracks, it is absolutely critical that we not back down,” the mayor said.

“We refuse to quit and we reject the calls to scale back on our ambitions in the name of a little temporary budget relief.

“Our police hiring plan is not negotiable.”

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