By now, you’ve certainly heard a lot about the Los Angeles Police Department’s Reporting District 936. This bleak area of the San Fernando Valley is bordered by Sherman Way to the south and by railroad tracks to the north. It is roughly centered between Sepulveda and Van Nuys boulevards and it was the scene of more rapes than any other part of Los Angeles in 1993. It has become a heinous feeding ground for rapists.
But many of us might dismiss this news as something that affects someone else, particularly if our travels don’t bring us near that area very often. And since the area is so rife with drugs and prostitution, we might easily conclude that District 936’s rape epidemic isn’t really our problem.
That would be wrong on both counts, even though most of that area’s rape victims are prostitutes.
In fact, the problem here is symptomatic of the Valley’s most serious violent crime problem: rape. It is the one crime in which the Valley rivals the rest of the city. That section of Van Nuys is merely its most visible example.
“There are people out there that don’t like women, period, and use prostitutes as a real upfront, easy-to-identify example of their hatred,” LAPD Detective Craig Rhudy says of District 936. And, as far as the Valley is concerned, who says it stops at that statistical boundary? The numbers clearly say otherwise.
Looking for an area in all of Los Angeles that is tied for second in reported rape? Look again in the Valley, this time at a district in nearby Panorama City. In fact, we worry that the prevalence of so-called easy target rape in such areas may be serving as a sort of magnet for sexual attacks against women throughout the Valley.
The Valley’s rape numbers are clearly out of line--in a way that statistics on other crimes are not. In even the worst cases last year, none of the LAPD’s Valley districts came close to the most dangerous parts of Los Angeles in terms of the other three types of serious violent crime: murder, aggravated assault and robbery. Take robbery, for instance. The worst Valley area for that crime was a section of North Hills, with 119. That was fewer than half of the number recorded in one part of the LAPD’s South Bureau in 1993. In the same vein, the most violent section of the city, also in the Central Bureau, recorded more than twice as many murders as the worst spot for homicides in the Valley.
Rape was the one form of serious violent crime in which Valley neighborhoods had the awful distinction of being the city’s worst areas. And the San Fernando Valley was just eight incidents away from recording more rapes than any other bureau in the city in 1993. There were 403 in the West Bureau, 408 in Central, 495 in the Valley, and 502 in South Bureau.
Recently we talked about the strains the LAPD faces each time it tries to send out an adequate patrol force. This effort is severely hampered by manpower and equipment shortages. But there is something else to consider here: geography.
“When you start talking about the effects on patrol vehicles alone, for example, you see that it’s a horrendous problem for us because we have so much ground to cover,” said LAPD Cmdr. John Moran, the assistant commanding officer for operations in the Valley.
In geographically dense New York City, for example, where there are nearly 90 sworn officers per square mile, it is easier to assign more officers to foot patrols to thwart such crime. In Los Angeles, where there are less than 15 sworn officers per square mile, such options are few.
We have also noted the distinction between sworn officers and the uniformed and traffic officers who are actually on patrol. There are just 1,047 of those patrol officers for the Valley’s 2,812 street miles, divided into three shifts and further reduced by routine injuries, illness, vacations and court appearances.
Fashioning a solution under such circumstances will require a strong community response. It will first, however, require a widespread recognition of the fact that the Valley’s most serious violent crime problem appears to be that of rape, and that the problem extends far beyond that bleak section of Van Nuys where prostitutes are the most common victims.