Los Angeles residents may be shellshocked by drive-by shootings, carjackings andhome invasion robberies, but the city's reputation as one of the lawlessness leaders of the Free World apparently does not meet the reality.
At least that is the conclusion of a Money magazine study that ranked the 15 most dangerous cities in the country. Los Angeles didn't make the cut.
Police officials, however, said they were not surprised.
"We've had some extremely violent crimes grab the headlines, but the fact of the matter is crime has not gone up over the past year or two," said Los Angeles Police Lt. John Dunkin of the press relations office. "It's not as dangerous a city as it's been portrayed."
Because the Money magazine rankings are based on violent crimes per 100,000 residents, a number of small cities are listed as being more crime-plagued than the nation's more notorious homicide leaders.
San Bernardino, with 82 homicides last year, is ranked in the study as the sixth-most-dangerous city in the country. New York City, with about 2,000 murders, was 22nd.
There is more crime news emanating from the nation's largest cities, criminologists contended, but not necessarily more per capita crime than smaller communities.
"Because of the gang situation, the crack explosion and the riots, the public perception of Los Angeles is distorted," said Malcolm Klein, a USC sociologist who has written extensively about street gangs and crime. "There's no reason to think L.A. has worse violent crime problems than most other major cities."
But Los Angeles residents should not take too much comfort in the findings. The city just missed the bottom 15 with a rank of 17th.
Although Los Angeles ranks behind a number of cities in per capita crime, in absolute numbers the city still is among the nation's leaders. With almost 1,100 homicides in 1993, Los Angeles ranks No. 2 in the country for murders.
Although many were surprised by Los Angeles' ranking, San Bernardino residents say they have known for some time about crime problems there.
Steve Filson, president of the San Bernardino Police Officer's Assn., said the crime statistics are not lost on local police. More than 70% of the city's police officers live outside the city.
"I hear from people on the street all the time, saying, 'Hell, we moved from Los Angeles to get away from all this crap, and it's following us out here,' " Filson said. "We've had LAPD officers on ride-alongs with us who say our activity level is worse than what they see in Los Angeles."
The study only tracks crimes within city limits, so it does not give an accurate representation of a metropolitan area such as Los Angeles, Klein said. Areas such as Lynwood, Inglewood, Compton and sections of what is considered East Los Angeles--which are in an unincorporated area of the county--were left out of the Los Angeles survey area.
The magazine proclaimed Irvine as the nation's safest city, among cities with populations of more than 100,000. And five other California cities are among the nation's 15 safest in terms of the violent crime rate, the magazine reported. Simi Valley ranked fourth, Sunnyvale was fifth, Thousand Oaks was 10th, Rancho Cucamonga ranked 11th and Glendale was 15th.
The Money magazine study, published in its June issue, cites FBI statistics and the magazine's own research to debunk various myths about how bad crime is. It noted that despite public perception, a person's chance of being a victim of crime is 9% less than it was in 1981, based on national statistics.
The survey was based on an analysis of the FBI's 1993 crime statistics.
The magazine added up the incidents of four violent crimes--homicide, rape, burglary and aggravated assault--and listed them per 100,000 residents. The magazine said residents living in such reputation-sullied cities as Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Oakland were in fact less prone to be victims of violent crime than people living in San Bernardino, where the violent crime rate was 3,190 per 100,000 population in 1993. In Los Angeles, the rate was 2,332 per 100,000
Atlanta was ranked the most dangerous city in the United States, with 4,123 crimes per 100,000 residents. In contrast, Irvine experienced only 114 violent crimes, Money reported.
Bob Fisher Sr., owner of a San Bernardino shooting range, said he recently learned firsthand of the city's crime problem.
"I'll tell you how bad it is, when my indoor shooting range gets robbed at gunpoint and they take away 40 guns, that tells you it's getting bad," said Fisher, who owns the San Bernardino Magnum Range, a place where judges, doctors, lawyers and homemakers practice their shooting. "These people are getting so bold out here, they don't care if they're coming into an indoor shooting range and you have a gun too. They still got the drop on us, and took off with 40 handguns."
Tom Minor, who spent nearly 30 years as a San Bernardino police officer--and is now the city's mayor--blames the crime problems on geography. San Bernardino is the first major California city encountered by people motoring to the Golden State for a better life--but then are confronted by a lousy economy and scant job offerings, he said.
"We're an easy stopping point for them," Minor said. "Anyone coming from Nevada or Arizona or elsewhere who comes to California seeking to improve themselves, are looking for jobs that aren't here. So they want (financial) aid. We're a county seat, and they hunker down here to be close to the county welfare office."
Still, he feels safer here than, say, in Los Angeles.
"When I go into L.A., I want eyes on the back of my head so I can see who's behind me," he said. "I don't feel that way out here."
Talk of the Town
Here are the safest and the most dangerous communities in the United States with more than 100,000 people, according to a study of FBI crime statistics by Money magazine:
1. Irvine 2. Amherst, N.Y. 3. Livonia, Mich. 4. Simi Valley 5. Sunnyvale, Calif. 6. Virginia Beach, Va. 7. Sterling Heights, Mich. 8. Madison, Wis. 9. Scottsdale, Ariz. 10. Thousand Oaks 11. Rancho Cucamonga 12. Plano, Tex. 13. Salem, Ore. 14. Arlington, Va. 15. Glendale
1. Atlanta 2. Miami 3. St. Louis 4. Tampa, Fla. 5. Little Rock, Ark. 6. San Bernardino 7. Baltimore 8. Baton Rouge, La. 9. Detroit 10. Flint, Mich. 11. Chicago 12. Washington 13. Oakland 14. Birmingham, Ala. 15. Kansas City, Mo.