Crime is down throughout Los Angeles for the 11th straight year, and the numbers show a steep decline in what have long been some of the toughest areas in the San Fernando Valley.
Homicides citywide are at the lowest level since the 1966 -- when the city had a fraction of its current population -- and in some areas of the valley, the decline is as much as 47 percent compared with the same period in 2012.
Police officials say the improvement is due to a combination of factors: an increase in crime-related data that helps to pinpoint when and where crime is likely to occur, an increase in patrols and outreach efforts and the fruition of years of gang suppression efforts, including seven gang injunctions throughout the area.
"I would attribute it to the overall effort. Not one strategy, but all of the strategies working together," said Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, who oversees the eight police stations within the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau. "Every single day we look at the data from the last 24 hours, 36 hours, last seven days, so we are quickly deploying our resources where they are needed. We're being agile. You combine that with community outreach, Facebook, Twitter, all of the other ways we're getting people involved and it is helping."
Community outreach includes a three-year long pilot program at Mission division, called Operation Ceasefire, that works with recently paroled gang members to offer connections to job training, tattoo removal and employment placement services.
The San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs brings faith-based and other nonprofit leaders into the mix, adding additional resources for at-risk youth and gang members who want to get out.
Eight gang injunctions, which drastically limit members' movements and allow for sweeping arrests, have also given police a more aggressive tactic when the light-handed outreach fails.
According to data accumulated by LAPD for Jan. 1 to Dec. 21, violent crime is down citywide 12 percent compared with the same period in 2012. Property crimes are down 5 percent. In the Valley, violent crime is down 10 percent and property crime is down 3 percent. Every division has shown a marked decline, including the affluent areas that hug Ventura Boulevard.
But the biggest drop was in the traditionally tough Northeast Valley neighborhoods.
Officer Robert Marino, patrol commanding officer for Mission Division, which includes Arleta, Panorama City, Sylmar, North Hills and Mission Hills, points to Blythe Street, a stretch of road a notorious local gang took its moniker from.
"Blythe Street was a problem even a few years ago," Marino said. "Gang members would put debris in the street, to block officers from getting in there after a crime quickly, to keep people from fleeing the area quickly. There would be trash cans blocking the way. Now, the whole atmosphere has changed. You go by the neighborhood park and there are kids playing, there are kids skateboarding. It has been revitalized."
In the Mission-patrolled neighborhoods, violent crime is down 11 percent, or about 100 crimes.
In neighboring Foothill Division, which includes La Tuna Canyon, Sunland, Shadow Hills, Lakeview Terrace, Pacoima, Tujunga and Sun Valley, the change has been even more dramatic. The number of homicides has dropped 47 percent, to 10, compared to 2012.
Foothill has spent the last year piloting a predictive policing model that uses hyper-local statistics and computer-driven resource deployment to put officers in areas where crime is most likely to occur.
"We did a study and found out yeah, this is something that can help," said Capt. Sean Malinowski, who oversees the division. "Every morning and every evening our officers get the data down to 500-foot-by-500-foot square boxes. It puts us in the un-obvious places, and then we combine that with the knowledge that a computer can't give you, and I think it works."
The program will be rolled out to other areas in the next year, including Devonshire and North Hollywood divisions.
But Malinowksi -- the self-described "predictive policing guy" -- is quick to note that the numbers can only help to a certain extent.
"The other component of this that I think sometimes gets lost in the technology is the community outreach. I go out to the scene of a gang shooting and one of the first things I do is I call Blinky, who comes out and starts talking to gang members and makes sure that there's no retaliation for the shooting," he said
Blinky is William "Blinky" Rodriguez, executive director of North Hills nonprofit Communities in Schools, which advocates outreach into the gang communities.
Born and raised in the Northeast Valley, Rodriguez saw the gang violence hit home in 1990, when his 16-year-old son was killed in a drive-by shooting. He has since become a go-between for community members and police.
"Just look at the area from Nordhoff to Roscoe, from the 405 to Woodman," Rodriguez said. "Even just a few years ago, there was a lot of bad things going on there -- from prostitution to drugs to gang violence. People knew that after the sun went down they should be careful."
But a drive through the area doesn't look the same anymore. Graffiti is at a minimum and there are a lot of people out walking. And that, Rodriguez said, is the result of both policing and resident involvement.
"There are a lot of things going on," he said. "I think, for one, people have been more responsive in the community. You have a lot of the old homies who now have an interest in stopping the violence for personal reasons. They don't want their kids to get hit by a stray bullet. But, as I've heard a lot of people say, you can't arrest your way out of the problem. So it has to be tied to other services. Then they drink from the well." ___
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