Region Sees Rise in Crime

Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2008

While homicides fell significantly, serious crime in the dozens of communities patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rose 4% overall in 2007—prompting Sheriff Lee Baca to warn that a worsening economy could present a tough crime picture for 2008.

An increase in robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and other property crimes drove the crime uptick, according to statistics compiled by the department, which protects about 3 million people.

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Baca’s concerns are borne out by Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate, which stood at 5.3% in November, nearly 1% higher than the same month a year before. It was the largest year-to-year increase since 2002.

At the same time, however, serious crime dropped 4.9% on neighboring turf patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department, which also recorded its fewest homicides—392—in 37 years. LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, in comments Wednesday, differed sharply with Baca in his analysis of crime.

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Malcolm Klein, professor emeritus of sociology at USC and a gang expert, said Bratton is mistaken in deriding socioeconomic factors but said it’s overly simplistic to draw a direct connection between unemployment and the crime rate.

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Baca said that his 17% reduction in homicides, coming on top of a 13% plunge in 2006, is a success story. Deputies investigated 273 slayings, down from 328 the previous year.

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Baca credited aggressive gang enforcement and a close partnership with communities such as Compton for the turnaround in homicides.

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Anti-gang deputies have concentrated on getting guns out of the hands of gang members. Last year, sheriff’s officials and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shut down a Compton gun store that had sold nearly 900 weapons that ended up being confiscated during criminal investigations.

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Rapes declined 7%, but robberies rose 3% and aggravated assaults jumped 6%.

Burglaries climbed by 6% and larceny/thefts went up by 7%, while vehicle thefts declined by 5%.

Sheriff’s officials said there was also a 12% jump in arson—from 904 in 2006 to 1,015 last year.

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