"People jog. People walk their dogs. That's different," said William Kemp, a business owner who was born and raised in Compton and is running to fill a vacancy on the City Council. "Is Compton completely safe? No. But are we safer? Absolutely."
"There've been times," said Zurita, a local school board member and the daughter of a former City Council member, "when we've said: 'What . . . were we thinking?' "
But she said they now believe they made the right decision.
"There is a sense of safety that I don't think I've ever felt," she said.
No, Zurita said, she will not be taking the bars off her windows any time soon. And everyone here knows the tide could turn again at any moment. But for now, she hears fewer gunshots outside her house and is only rarely awakened by police helicopters. It's a start; she'll take it. And those soaring theft rates?
"Oh," she said, "people are just stealing to feed their family."
Late on a recent night, Det. Joe Sumner, part of the sheriff's gang detail, rumbled through the narrow streets in an unmarked cruiser. Sumner's knowledge of Compton gangs is encyclopedic; put him on any block and he can instantly tell you whose turf you're on.
This night, though, many blocks were dark and empty; they've been that way lately. Amid a concerted law enforcement push, scores of gang members have been imprisoned, and more have given up and moved away -- to Riverside, Fresno, Las Vegas.
"There has been so much pressure put on these guys," Sumner said.
Suddenly he jerked his car toward the sidewalk and bolted from the car. Two young men, documented gangsters, raised their hands, almost instinctively. They knew the drill. They lifted their shirts to show that they were not hiding guns, then spread their legs and put their hands on the warm hood of Sumner's car while he patted them down. Sumner found no drugs and no weapons.
"Take off," he said. To the younger man, he added: "Say hi to your dad."
That, officials said, has been the key to combating gang violence: pairing aggressive enforcement with programs designed to improve the relationship between the community and the cops.
It is a stark contrast to the 1980s, when area law enforcement agencies launched a gang crackdown that resembled a military operation, destroying any semblance of a relationship between the agencies and the communities they served.
Since Ryan took command of the Compton station two years ago, the number of Explorer Scouts has risen from eight to 25, that of station volunteers from 10 to 55, and reserve deputies from just one previously to eight. Neighborhood Watch and business watch programs are popping up all over town.
The department runs the Compton Youth Activities League in a former National Guard armory, and about 150 kids come each month for after-school programs. Almost all have a close relative in prison, officials said, and many have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system.
The other day, a tutor helped children with homework, while other youngsters played pool with a deputy. Ricardo Villeda, 14, said he'd been coming to the armory to learn boxing for about a week. He said his mother would have forbidden it in the past because his 20-minute walk home would have been too dangerous.
Programs are free, including the newest, "Science Alive," designed by a veteran sergeant. So far, about 160 fifth-graders have graduated, after dissecting pigs' hearts and learning about weather systems. The two participating schools reported that the number of students ranked "proficient" in science last year jumped 20%.
Still, crises arise in Compton that are unthinkable in most communities. Last year, several students reported being robbed after school and deputies had to step in to calm the situation when scores of fearful kids abruptly stopped going to school.
"It's a tough life," said Deputy Alfonso Rodriguez, who runs the youth center. "If you give a damn, there is a lot at stake."