How's Los Angeles's Crime Rate?


Los Angeles's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police chief Bill Bratton have been crowing about crime rates that supposedly make the city as safe as it was in 1956. But does their rosy picture really hang straight?

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A lengthy L.A. Weekly cover story from last week gives some reasons to doubt the implications of Bratton's claim. Some excerpts:

Aaron Epstein, who worked on Hollywood Boulevard in 1956 and still owns property on the Walk of Fame, says, "People felt safe back then. We didn't have prostitutes on the corners, we didn't have dope dealers in the streets, and we didn't have gangs."

Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at the highly respected John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who examined L.A.'s crime rates of 1956 and 2007, says, "Looking at murders and robberies -- the crime that people really care about -- we're not back yet to 1956 crime levels."

.....Bratton, the former top cop in Boston and New York City, seems to be abusing crime statistics partly to prove that his department deserves more money amidst budget cuts, and partly to maneuver into a position where he can take personal credit.

The article notes that most major cities have seen crime drops similar to L.A.'s, making any implication that it is special effort or wisdom on Bratton's part responsible questionable, and that Angelenos of the 50s remember a time when people didn't feel they had to lock their doors and when notable gang fights involved chains, not guns.

And by lumping together all crimes in a certain reporting category, Bratton manages to imply that more significant crimes such as homicide and robbery are back to mid-'50s levels, when they are not. Both murder and robbery rates are more than twice as bad as 1956. (LAPD informed the Weekly that they no longer use the 1956 figures, now saying L.A. crime rates are equivalent to 1961, still a stretch as far as general quality of life goes.)

For a statistical look at modern-day L.A. crime, see the LAPD's own Crime Maps and COMPSTAT site.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Sean Yoda Rouse. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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