There has been a steep drop in crime in the San Fernando Valley so far this year, and there have been some small gains by the Los Angeles Police Department in terms of technological capability and funds for overtime. All come as welcome news in a region struggling to recover from various woes.
The fact remains, however, that some of the decrease may be as easily attributable to the earthquake and its aftermath (criminals can be displaced, too) as to new crime-fighting techniques. Moreover, those recent high-tech gains mask fundamental weaknesses in terms of equipment and computing options.
Also, some of the solutions planned for the Valley's worst crime areas must be redefined according to restrictions on other capabilities. It's fine, for example, to talk of "saturating" problem areas with more patrol officers. But a certain amount of context is needed here, such as the fact that the Valley is still the most lightly patrolled part of a huge city that itself is one of the most lightly patrolled, overall, in the nation.
And while we are pleased to note the availability of additional overtime money to put more officers on the street, this is still a poor substitute for the permanent deployment of more officers. Officers who have already pulled a shift are hardly as alert when they are sent into a high crime area to work several more hours on overtime. The long-term goal must be a larger police force.
The equipment problem is so severe that one shortage serves to exacerbate another problem. It was just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, that Councilwoman Laura Chick was touring the police academy and came across some $270,000 in new equipment for use in local police stations. It was important stuff, including interactive technology that will help test and teach officers on the appropriate use of force. Unfortunately, it had been gathering dust at the academy for nearly a month. Why? Because there were no police vans to transport the training equipment to the local police stations.
At Chick's request, the City Council has approved the purchase of two vans for the department. Perhaps it will mean that the training equipment won't be left to sit idle for another month before it gets to where its needed. That's just one illustration of the department's equipment problems. There are many others.
We are pleased to note the use, since April, of computers in the LAPD's Gang Tracking System. Again, however, it hides the fact that the department still lacks a computer network linking its 18 divisions, that detectives still spend more than half of their time filling out paperwork by hand, and that many of the computers the LAPD does have are cast-offs that are unable to communicate with each other.
Cars are still a big problem. As one high-ranking member of the force has put it, "Detectives frequently must wait for an available car to file cases, interview suspects or talk with victims and witnesses. Police officers spend valuable time putting a broken car out of service and outfitting another car to continue their watch."
Perhaps this is the context in which we should view figures that show a 50% reduction in homicides, an 18% drop in robberies, an 8% reduction in aggravated assaults, and a 6% decline in rapes in the Valley over the first six months of 1994.
It's a remarkably fortuitous circumstance under these conditions, and perhaps the only benefit possible from an earthquake.
Now is the time to take advantage of the situation, by showing a willingness to do what it takes to better equip and expand the LAPD. The last thing we can afford is to find such solace in the crime numbers and in piecemeal funding solutions that we begin to feel as though the problem of personnel and equipment has been solved. It most emphatically has not been solved.