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Long Beach Had State’s Largest Increase in Serious Crime in ’89

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state report says Long Beach had the largest increase in serious crimes of any major California city last year, prompting police to demand that more officers be hired and neighborhood activists to organize special citizen patrols.

Major crimes shot up 25% in 1989 over the previous year, with the murder rate increasing by 46% in the same period, according to the Bureau of Criminal Statistics in the state Department of Justice.

Long Beach Police Chief Lawrence Binkley blamed much of problem on gangs moving into Long Beach from nearby cities like Los Angeles. According to police statistics, 31 of 97 murders last year were either drug-related or gang-related--compared to 15 of 63 in 1988.

Anti-gang sweeps in Los Angeles have aggravated the problem in Long Beach, Binkley said.

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“When (Police Chief Daryl F.) Gates puts 1,000 cops on the streets, he drives them out here,” Binkley said. “It doesn’t take very long before gangs figure that Long Beach is a better place to be.”

Los Angeles police spokesman Fred Nixon said Thursday: “It’s an unfortunate fact that if the pressure is here, they’ll go someplace else.”

Though the percentage increases can be startling, Binkley noted that because Long Beach has also experienced an influx of new residents, the overall picture may not be as grim when the city’s population is figured into the formula.

San Bernardino, for example, has 71.1 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, compared to Long Beach’s rate of 54.8 violent crimes per 1,000 people, according to police statistics.

In the upscale, middle-class and working-class neighborhoods of Long Beach, residents seem to be adopting a greater awareness of the need for crime prevention measures.

“My wife and my son are locking the house for once,” Binkley said.

In one northern Long Beach neighborhood, where mostly retirees and blue-collar workers live, about 60 people take turns driving around to check for suspicious activity from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. Since the patrols started a month ago, neighbors have helped police arrest at least five people seen breaking into homes, said Jim Lemieux, a 45-year resident of the community near DeForest Park.

In Naples, where gondolas are often seen gliding past million-dollar residences, homeowners are considering taxing themselves to pay for additional police to patrol their islands. In the Virginia Country Club area, home to some of the city’s most prominent residents, citizens are considering closing off the neighborhood with gates and hiring security guards.

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“This has always been a wonderful, safe neighborhood and now crime that we hear about in other communities is tiptoeing here,” said Barbara Shoag, a Virginia Country Club resident and long-time community activist.

The crime increase last year in Long Beach was 2 1/2 times greater than it was in the city of Los Angeles. Overall, major crimes increased 10% in Los Angeles, where the number of homicides jumped 19.2% from 736 in 1988 to 877 last year, according to the Bureau of Criminal Statistics. The bureau’s report measured crime rates in California cities with populations of 100,000 or greater.

Major crimes include murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts. In the category of violent crimes--defined by state officials as murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults--Long Beach saw an increase from 5,153 in 1988 to 7,169 in 1989, a jump of 39%.

Long Beach police reported to the state bureau that 85 murders took place in their city in 1989, but that figure did not include those considered justifiable homicides--which actually bring the number up to 97, police said Thursday.

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The Bureau of Criminal Statistics counts only “willful killings,” not justifiable homicides such as those involving officers or citizens who kill in self-defense.

Armed with the new statistics, Binkley and city officials are asking voters to support a property tax levy next June to raise money for an additional 75 officers.

If the trend holds up, officers would no longer be able to provide some non-emergency services unless the department’s staff of 643 is expanded, Binkley said.

Last year, a series of internal memos in the Police Department signalled the arrival of recommendations to reduce services to cope with inadequate staffing and a higher incidence of crime.

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In one memo, a police commander recommended that investigators begin ignoring, among other things, petty thefts of less than $400 and battery cases in which the victim requires no medical treatment--with the exception of gang-related investigations. Binkley said this week that those are among the cuts he is considering.

Already, many residents complain that police are slow to respond. “Because we have not been getting good police response, our neighborhood association chapter decided to have our own volunteer civilian patrol,” Lemieux said.

In yet another North Long Beach neighborhood, residents are talking about taking strolls in groups each evening in search of people who may not belong in the area.

The residents, City Councilman Jeff Kellogg said, would ask people they don’t recognize questions such as: “Can I ask you what business you have in this neighborhood? Can I help you?” Kellogg said he plans to join the group on some of its outings.

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Some community leaders are highly critical of such citizen patrols because they fear they will further polarize the community.

“This vigilante attitude doesn’t help the problem,” said Frank Berry, president of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. “Those kinds of things in a racially diverse community could be very dangerous.”

CRIME IN LONG BEACH Incidents of violent crime are on the rise in Long Beach. Calls for assistance have increased by one-third, while the number of police officers has risen only slightly.

1984 1989 Increase Violent crimes 4,238 7,157 68.8% Homicides* 49 97 97.9% Calls for service 437,069 583,387 33.4% Population 376,034 419,819 11.6% Police officers 621 643 3.5%

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*Although police reported to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Statistics that Long Beach had 85 homicides in 1989, that figure does not include justifiable homicides, which bring the number up to 97. Source: Long Beach Police Department HOMICIDE RATE The number of homicides in Long Beach annually since 1984. * 1984: 49 * 1985: 68 * 1986: 65 * 1987: 68 * 1988: 63 * 1989: 97 * 1990*: 34 *Through Thursday, April 12


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