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Despite LE spending cuts, murder down in LA

Los Angeles is on pace to record the smallest number of murders since 1967, when its population was almost just two thirds what it is today

LOS ANGELES — Budget cuts have hit just about every police department in the nation. But according to authorities in Los Angeles, that city may close the books on 2010 with the lowest homicide rate seen since Lyndon Baines Johnson occupied the White House. According to the Los Angeles Times, there have been 291 murders reported (as of Sunday, December 26, 2010), a figure that is roughly 40 percent lower than 2007, when economists say the so-called “Great Recession” began — the year that cities and towns across America began to cut funding for public safety in general and law enforcement in particular.

Sheriff Lee Baca — who earlier this year resumed a role in patrolling the streets as part of a widely-publicized series of belt-tightening moves by LASD — believes that anti-gang programs may have helped reduce the toll, according to one report by Associated Press. Sheriff Baca’s return to patrol duties coincided with an agency-wide reorganization that was intended — at least in part — to reduce overtime. This move was mirrored by LAPD as well, with officers taking “comp time” off from work instead of being paid overtime.

Meanwhile, the results are the results, regardless of how surprising they may be. That LA Times report said that the city's total number of homicides “translates into roughly 7.5 killings per 100,000 people and puts it in league with New York City and Phoenix as having among the lowest homicide rates among major U.S. cities.”

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck was quoted in one newscast as saying that “there were a bunch of indicators warning us that that shouldn't have happened.”

A report this morning in the USA Today  said that the so-called experts “are at a loss to explain” the precipitous decline, but suggest a mix of factors including more effective crime-fighting strategies and stricter sentencing guidelines.

On that first point I agree. Police agencies have become decidedly better at doing less with more — using everything from cutting-edge predictive-policing software technology and analysis to good old fashioned beat patrols in high-crime areas — but that’s happening across the country. However, that second point — the notion that sentencing guidelines are stricter — is pure fantasy.

That said, the LA Times does serve up one interesting idea for the reduction in murders. Back in July and August of 2008, we reported on an effort undertaken by the aforementioned Sheriff Baca, alongside then LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and noted civil rights attorney Connie Rice — second cousin to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — to address gang crime in Los Angeles.

The system they created is called Southern California Gang Emergency Operations Center (GEOC) and according to Sheriff Baca it is “nothing other than a coordinating body of all activities related to gangs.” GEOC’s multi-faceted centralized framework is dependent on a software solution from Knowledge Computing Corporation that brings together the criminal justice, social services, faith-based and community-based service organizations, as well as local government under one umbrella.

Baca said in our 2008 series on the effort that the key is integrating human and technological support systems to achieve an edge in economizing as well as being smarter in dealing with a complex problem such as gangs. The stats out of LA may indeed be reflective of success in that program. 

Meanwhile, I must offer one other thought.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman often says in his seminars that a commonly-overlooked reason for a reduction in the number of fatal gunshot wounds nationwide is that medical care is exponentially increasing in its effectiveness. In this writer’s humble estimation, there’s a lot to be said for that theory. Why do you think the homicide rates in L.A. have gone down? Add your comments below.

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