A headline in the Times this morning made me feel like I was back in the bloody drive-by gang banger 80’s. A time when we wouldn’t go into South Central after dark, story or no story.
“Homicide Report: 18 killings last week in Los Angeles County” it says. 18? in one week? That feels like a lot. I thought things had gotten so much better under the command of former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton?
According to the paper-“There were 18 homicides in Los Angeles from March 16 to 22, bringing the monthly tally to 46 and the yearly total to 129, according to The Times’ Homicide Report database.” –LA Times
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But the paper says things are getting better. The yearly total for murders up to March 22nd of last year was 169 dead. The number for 2008 was even higher, at 216.
So we should feel good about only 129 murders in the first three months of this year? Yes! Only 129 people blown away in L.A. County!
I know what I’m being told, but I still can’t come around to feeling all that good about it. At times it feels like we’re back in the 80’s, when the coroner’s wagons spent their weekends traveling to and from what we then referred to as “South Central,” but which we now call “South Los Angeles,” which is less offensive to some (mostly city leaders) and considered to be far more PC even if it is less descriptive.
But wait, on December 24th of last year, Joel Rubin and Richard Winton reported: “Crime rates plunge despite weak economy.”
“The totals are a fraction of the killings that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the county had roughly a million fewer residents, but its urban core was in the grip of a crack cocaine epidemic and gang violence. Another prime marker of violence, the number of gunshots fired, was also down.” – LA Times 12/24/09
And look at this, from KABC-TV in January-
‘”I’m proud to say that this year, with 69 fewer homicides, that’s 314 homicides in the city, down from 381 the year before. The homicide rate is the lowest since 1967,” said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.’ -KABC– 1/06/10
I understand what the mayor is saying, but last night four people were shot in Pacoima, two critically, in what appears to have been a gang-related incident.
I bring this up, only because of a recent ongoing conversation (dispute) with my sister from the Boston area. I was trying to convince her that traveling to Mexico wasn’t a good idea, what with the drug war going on down there and all. However, she countered that she and her significant other would be going to southern Mexico, which was still relatively safe and that she’d be okay, provided she stayed in the main tourist areas. I countered that the drug war is nationwide, and you can’t tell the good guys from the bad, because there’s no way of knowing who’s been bought off by one cartel or another. “Go to Costa Rica,” I said.
Then, with an icy accuracy that was somewhat painful (my sister is pretty smart), she pointed out that some parts of Los Angeles aren’t all that safe, but the City she said, is still safe to visit if you know which areas to avoid.
She went to Mexico and apparently had a great time visiting the pyramids. After she returned 24 gang related murders were reported near Acapulco. Some had been decapitated. But my sister got back okay.
And here I sit in Los Angeles, where things are getting so much better that the Mayor can brag about the number of murders dropping to only 314 in one year. I’m not knocking the Mayor or the PD, things have gotten better. A lot better.
However, four people were shot here in the Valley last night and an old thought keeps rolling around in my head. In terms of the number of officers on the force, Los Angeles remains one of the most under-policed major cities in the country. Why? Because City officials have never summoned up enough political will to beef up the PD to numbers that would put us on a par with Chicago or New York. It’s something nobody really wants to talk about. Especially our local politicians. Not in the nearly 30 years I’ve been watching the political scene here in L.A.
Here are the numbers-
The NYPD’s current authorized uniformed strength is 37,838. There are also approximately 4,500 Auxiliary Police Officers, 5,000 School Safety Agents, 2,300 Traffic Enforcement Agents, and 370 Traffic Enforcement Supervisors currently employed by the department. –Wikipedia
(Chicago) ...is the largest police department in the Midwest and the second largest in the United States after the New York City Police Department with over 13,400 sworn officers. –Wikipedia
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)…With just over 10,000 officers… –Wikipedia
Thing is you see, Chicago is smaller than Los Angeles. Chicago’s population is around 2.8 million. The population of Los Angeles is 3.8 million. There is also the fact that the LAPD is policing 498 square miles while Chicago police are responsible for only 225 square miles.
Bottom line: Chicago has 3,400 more cops policing half the area and one million fewer people.
So you do a little math, and here’s what you have-
New York- One cop for every 219 people (305 sq. miles)
Chicago – One cop for every 209 people (225 sq. miles)
Philadelphia – One cop for every 227 people (127 sq. miles)
Los Angeles – One cop for every 380 people (498 sq. miles)
Before his departure from the LAPD, I mentioned to Chief Bratton that it was possible to spend an entire afternoon driving around the San Fernando Valley, without seeing a single police officer or police car. He acknowledged the shortage of officers and said he and his wife had gotten to the point where they had turned it into a running joke, calling it a “sighting” whenever they spotted an LAPD patrol car.
In spite of that, Bill Bratton somehow turned things around. Obviously, he didn’t do it alone. While I recognize that several factors are involved in determining crime rates and that some cities, like Houston, are in even worse shape than we are, I still think the man worked a miracle. You have to wonder how long it’ll last.