DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In the city of Los Angeles, 2012 marked the 10th consecutive year of falling crime, with annual incidents dropping by 2%, according to recent LAPD statistics. Zoom in on the Central City, however, and the numbers tell a different story.
Last year, part one crimes — a category that includes all violent crimes and serious property-related offenses — jumped 12% compared to 2011 in Central Division, which covers most of Downtown. Violent offenses alone increased 5%.
About half of Central’s crime occurred in the square-mile area of Skid Row. While not a new phenomenon, that fact was enough to prompt Central leadership in November to overhaul the way it deploys officers to the neighborhood. At the time the changes were implemented, year-to-date crime was up 16%, so there is evidence that the new approach is working, said Central Area Capt. Horace Frank, who took the reins at Central in November 2011.
Still, the 12% increase marks the second consecutive annual crime jump (levels rose 5% in 2011) after a sustained period of significant reductions. The decreases started in 2007, when in the first year of the Safer Cities Initiative — a crackdown on low-level offenses in Skid Row — Downtown crime plummeted by 30%.
Part of what’s driving recent increases, police officials say, is that after such drastic crime reductions, it’s difficult to post better numbers every year. It’s the same refrain that came from Central officials in 2009, when the area saw its first uptick since 2006 (the numbers fell again, by 10%, in 2010).
In 2012, Central was fighting more than the division’s recent history of success. Perhaps the most significant new challenge was the state prison reform plan known as realignment.
The reform law AB 109, which was implemented in October 2011, has resulted in shorter jail stints for many of the low-level offenders who drive property and drug-related crimes in Downtown, said Frank.
In previous years, Central officers focused on arresting the area’s most chronic offenders. These days, many nonviolent criminals, among them serial thieves, are back on the street within days of their arrest, Frank said.
The steadily increasing residential and visitor population in Downtown also means that there are more potential victims and property to steal, Frank said.
In April, LAPD brass, sensing that recent public safety gains were at risk in Downtown, transferred 40 additional officers to Central Division. The move, deemed temporary at the time, is still in effect, albeit in smaller numbers.
About 10 of the officers transferred in April have since moved to other divisions. Those still here are focused on two things: narcotics enforcement and walking foot beats to increase visibility.
The emphasis on foot beats will continue this year, as Central plans to invest more in crime prevention through community outreach. The division last year started experimenting with social networking, using Twitter to disseminate crime tips and a Facebook page to connect with civilians.
The division is also working with 12 Downtown hotels to provide a business card that lists basic crime prevention tips. The cards are given to tourists along with their room keys, Frank said.
Much of the theft last year involved unattended property, from purses sitting at a restaurant table during a restroom visit to bikes left unlocked while an owner popped into a cafe. Frank hopes that in 2013 Central can reach more residents via social networking to instill better habits.
The most dramatic strategic policing change, however, occurred in Skid Row. The November reworking of the Safer Cities unit, which included the replacement of longtime supervisor Lt. Shannon Paulsen with Lt. Pete Casey, addressed a slate of inefficiencies.
Until November, the special unit was only patrolling Skid Row five days per week. Regular task forces that focused on drinking in public tied up members of the unit in paperwork, keeping them out of the field for extended shifts.
In addition, while the unit was implemented as a 50-officer team, the number had dwindled to about 44 due to some officers assigned to desk duty because of injuries. In November, Frank moved those officers out of SCI, replacing them with field-ready bodies, bringing the group back to 50, he said.
An array of scheduling tweaks has bumped the Skid Row patrols to seven days per week. Before the changes, the unit was often deploying five cars in the SCI area, which extends from Alameda to Olive streets, between Second and Ninth streets. Now, SCI cars patrol a smaller area bounded by Spring, Fourth and Seventh streets and Central Avenue, with up to eight cars during the highest crime periods.
“We lost focus in Skid Row, quite frankly,” Frank said. “Our deployment was not where it needed to be.”
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.