1st Significant Dip in 7 Years : Major Crime Down 9% in Long Beach, Police Report

Times Staff Writer

Major crime went down by 9% and overall crime decreased by 7% in 1987, the first significant decrease in seven years, Police Chief Lawrence Binkley reported last week.

"We had a good year," Binkley said, especially in lowering the number of residential burglaries and grand thefts throughout the city and lowering crime in downtown.

Despite the overall decrease, however, Long Beach had more murders, aggravated assaults and auto thefts last year.

There was a 4.7% increase in murders, from 63 in 1986 to 66 in 1987; a 6.4% increase in aggravated assaults, from 1,791 to 1,907; and a 5.8% increase in auto thefts, from 4,887 to 5,174.

Overall, however, Long Beach broke a streak of small annual crime increases which climaxed in 1986 with a sharp 12.8% increase in major crimes.

In 1987, the biggest dips were in bike thefts, which went down 33.7%, from 2,431 to 1,611; residential burglaries, which went down by 21.8%, from 7,203 to 5,630, and grand theft, which went down by 14.2%, from 2,174 to 1,865.

Binkley attributed the decreases to a crackdown on heroin trafficking, which police say leads to a variety of crimes, and to "hard work by police."

In contrast to previous years, the annual comparison report does not list crime statistics by City Council districts. Instead, the report divides the city into three areas: downtown, the east side, (the section east of Cherry Avenue,) and the north side, (the section north of Wardlow Road).

Police Cmdr. Robert Luman said crime is "a citywide problem" and should not be broken into council districts.

"We don't feel that crime is a problem that is defined by political boundaries," Luman said.

In the past, district crime numbers have been hot political commodities. When the numbers went down in a council district, the incumbent was happy; but when they went up, political challengers used them to claim the incumbent was doing a poor job. Likewise, bad figures frequently caused pressure on the police department from unhappy council members who demanded improvements.

Luman denied that any council members requested the change in reporting procedures and said the idea was "a department decision.

The most significant change among the three sectors came in the downtown area, where major crime--such as murder, burglary and larceny theft--went down by 11.6% and overall crime decreased by 9.2%. That translates to 21,422 crimes last year, contrasted with 23,596 in 1986.

"I think we have put forth a significant effort in the downtown area and it appears to have had a positive effect," Luman said.

A special police task force created last year to clean the downtown of criminals and vagrants was a major contributor to lowering the number of crimes, Luman said.

Bike Thefts Down

In the east side of Long Beach, the most significant decreases were the number of bike thefts, down 32.1% from 1986, and the number of residential burglaries, down 25%. There was an 80% increase--from 20 to 36--in the number of arson cases and a 17.2% increase in the number of auto thefts.

In the north part of the city, the most significant decreases were a 47.8% reduction in arson cases, a 28.4% reduction in robberies and a 26% drop in bike thefts. The sharpest increase was a 66.6% jump in the number of murders, from 12 in 1986 to 20 last year. Luman said he could offer no specific reason for the murder increase in the north district but said it is "probably an anomaly."

Close to half of the crimes reported in Long Beach are in the downtown area. Overall, police reported 45,900 crimes last year. In 1986, police reported 49,413 crimes.

For Binkley, who will soon celebrate his first anniversary as Long Beach police chief, the numbers are significant. "It means you're safer than you've been before," he said.

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