Saturday night, July 21, and it's been slow in South Los Angeles, scary slow. Two Los Angeles police officers stop a pair of young gang members for jaywalking, a good excuse to ask some questions.

When was the last shooting in the neighborhood? Officer Brandon Valdez asks. One of the gang members tells him it was probably "when my boy" was killed about a month ago, there by the church.

Valdez scribbles on a field interview card, which will be used to update the young man's gang profile.

The gang member, a lanky 20-year-old who goes by the name Mally, chews coolly on a toothpick. A large gilded crucifix dangles from his neck as he and a friend slouch, handcuffed, against a rusting gate on a street corner just west of the Nickerson Gardens projects.

Mally says he hasn't seen rival gang members in the area since the killing. No one from the other projects. Nothing like that.

Valdez is 27, a five-year veteran who patrols the heart of gang country. Gang violence is plummeting to historic lows, a trend that is likely to see Los Angeles finish the year with the fewest homicides in 40 years.

One of Valdez's bosses, Sgt. Al Labrada, can remind his younger troops that when he joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1993, the city recorded 1,078 homicides. This year, the total is expected to be fewer than 400.

Part of the reason may be the way the LAPD is working with gang intervention teams and community groups. Freed from having to ride from one blood-splattered scene to another as they once did, gang officers are able to slow down and take the pulse of neighborhoods. That means making more stops, even for minor offenses, and establishing a presence. That is always tough, given that there are about 140 gang cops compared to more than 20,000 gang members in the LAPD's South Bureau.

Even with the success so far, both cops and residents know a quiet night can become deadly in a matter of seconds.

As Valdez stares at the field interview card, Mally clears his throat.

"Can't say it's quiet right now," he says. "Can't say it's quiet, until the day is over with."

Earlier in the day, Valdez and his partner, Cesar Rivera, are driving their black-and-white through the LAPD's 77th Street Division when they hear a radio call: Two gang officers have chased down another gang member with a gun in an alley near 65th Street and Vermont Avenue.

When they arrive, other officers from the South Bureau gang unit are already there, along with a few gang members.

Hunched over the trunk of a police cruiser, a Latino boy writes on a form. An older black teenager sits on the cruiser's back seat, handcuffed. The boy stops writing and looks at Officer Pablo Soto.

"You gonna take me, right?" he says. Soto says no. "Why not?" the boy whines.

The boy is wearing a white T-shirt and baggy, olive-colored cargo pants. He has tattoos on his arms. He's 14 years old. From under the wrinkled cuffs of the pants, bright red Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers poke out.

He is one of the few Latino members of the 6-7 Neighborhood Crips. He says the gun belongs to him, not to the 19-year-old black gang member in the cruiser.

Soto and his partner, Enrique Lopez, were driving on Vermont when they spotted the two gang members. The 19-year-old reached for his waistband, then took off into the alley. The two cops chased him.

The teenager hopped over a fence into a yard and tried to throw the gun over a house. But it clattered back to the ground. Cornered, with Lopez and Soto in close pursuit, the young gang member gave up.