In his final press conference on the topic before being termed out, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced violent crimes in Los Angeles have dropped 12.5 percent in the first half of 2013, for an overall decline of almost 50 percent since he took office eight years ago.
"It's no small feat," Villaraigosa said Friday at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
Police Chief Charlie Beck described the achievement as unprecedented, and attributed it largely to the outgoing mayor's steadfast commitment -- even during the Great Recession -- to expand the LAPD during his tenure.
"There has never been a time in recorded history where crime has dropped this precipitously in the city," Beck said.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, agreed Villaraigosa deserved credit.
"If you compare the drop in violent crime here in L.A. against the challenges that the nations' other largest cities are facing, it's clear Villaraigosa's efforts have made a significant difference," he said.
But Robert Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, noted L.A.'s falling crime rate was not unique.
"If L.A.'s crime rate had gone down while everyone else's had gone up, then there's really something going on here in L.A.," Stern said. "I think we're just doing a better job of policing across the country, using more up-to-date tactics."
"I'd certainly give Villaragiosa a good grade but it's clear he's not the only reason," Stern added. "He certainly didn't stand in the way, and maybe he was of some help."
When Villaraigosa came to City Hall in 2005, Los Angeles had 9,284 sworn officers. It now has 10,023.
Beck said the expansion was crucial.
"If your policing is based on just answering 9-1-1 calls, you'll never make progress," he said. "Having a 10,000-member police department allows us to get ahead of crime."
Beck said the mayor's public safety strategy was effective because it also included diverting at-risk youth from gangs; recruiting gang members to prevent conflicts between rival gangs from flaring up; and handing out grocery store gift cards in exchange for guns.
He said the mayor's efforts to reform schools in poor neighborhoods also helped.
"I can post cops on corners and make crime go away while they stand there, but what you want to do is make crime go away when the cops are not there," Beck said. "What you want to do is create a space that doesn't require constant police presence and that's what we've been able to do."
With Beck and his predecessor, William Bratton, at the helm, the LAPD has become a more professional, modern and diverse organization -- far different from the one placed on a federal consent decree following the Rampart corruption scandal.
LAPD statistics released Friday showed 7,600 violent crimes from January through most of June -- or half as many as during the same period in 2005, when Villaraigosa became mayor.
Over the last eight years, the number of homicides, robberies and rapes slid 40 to 45 percent; aggravated assaults, 50 percent; gang crimes, 50 percent; and property crimes, 30 percent.
"Think back eight years. If somebody had told you then that we would cut violent and gang crime in half in the city of Los Angeles during the mayor's two terms, nobody here would have supported that as a possibility -- and yet it has happened," Beck said.
(c)2013 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services