Assaults increased more than any other serious crime in West Hollywood last fiscal year, according to statistics released by the West Hollywood sheriff's station.
The number of reported assaults increased 26%, to 755 from 600.
Auto theft and robbery also increased during the year that ended June 30, but by a lesser percentage. Meanwhile, the number of homicides, rapes and burglaries decreased.
Sheriff's officials said they believe the rise in assaults is primarily a reflection of increased reporting of domestic violence. Whereas reporting such crimes was once left to the officer's discretion, it became mandatory in July, 1990. During the 1990-91 fiscal year, West Hollywood sheriff's deputies reported 85 cases of domestic violence, compared to 52 the year before, a 63% jump.
But sheriff's officials said that along with increased reporting, they believe the actual number of domestic violence incidents is on the rise, as are violent incidents involving acquaintances in bars and clubs.
"These are probably crimes where the people know each other, not violent incidents running rampant on sidewalks," said Sgt. Steve Dolan, the sheriff's station's crime prevention-community relations representative.
And to a lesser extent, officials said the increase in the number of assaults could be attributed to more extensive reporting of random attacks against gays. About a year ago, sheriff's deputies began handing out brochures about gay-bashing, encouraging victims to report such crimes.
Gay community leaders say they believe the actual number of gay-bashing assaults in the city remain much higher than the figures indicate.
"Some people feel that if they reveal their sexual orientation to law enforcement they won't be helped," said Roger Coggan, director of legal services for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. "They have a fear of discrimination, of re-victimization."
Among other serious crimes, auto theft and robbery both went up 15% during the fiscal year. The number of reported auto thefts rose from 763 to 877. Incidents of robbery increased from 358 to 413.
Thefts rose by 8%, from 1,374 to 1,485.
Homicides dropped from 11 to four, a 64% decrease, and reported rapes went from 28 to 16, a 43% decrease. Burglary dropped by 8% from 1,156 to 1,065.
Overall, the eight most serious crimes--homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson--showed an increase of 7%, from 4,336 to 4,646.
Community activists, particularly on the city's east end, believe that many of the crime problems come from prostitution along Santa Monica Boulevard, and they complain that the Sheriff's Department is not doing enough to stem the tide. Vocal east-end activists are planning a campaign of citizens' arrests for this fall targeted at prostitutes and drug dealers.
"If the city won't enforce the law, we will," said Tad Bright, co-chair of Eastend Community Action, a Neighborhood Watch group. "We aren't intending to be vigilantes. But we're tired of watching our neighborhoods disintegrate."
Capt. Clarence Chapman, the commanding officer at the sheriff's station, and other sheriff's officials say that West Hollywood's crime troubles are not as bad as many other cities in Los Angeles County. Chapman pointed to the fact that the number of murders and rapes dropped.
"When you have more violent crime, you usually have more homicides and rapes," Chapman said. "But obviously we're not seeing that in West Hollywood."