According to the numbers, crime dropped in the San Fernando Valley in 1995 for the fourth consecutive year. But a rash of high-profile cases bolstered the public's perception that rampant and random violence continues to play itself out on local streets.
Police and sheriff's detectives spent 1995 hunting down an alleged serial killer, investigating a bloody double slaying at Universal CityWalk, making sense of a teen gunned down in a mall parking lot, and trying to curb an onslaught of brutal gang killings in the northeast Valley.
Indeed, statistics through early December, the latest available, showed 106 homicides, up 26% from the same time last year. Police attribute the increase to gang violence, which was blamed for roughly half of the Valley's homicides.
Rapes increased 7.6% this year, but a dip in the number of robberies and aggravated assaults resulted in a 2.2% overall reduction in violent crime. Robberies dropped by 2.8% and aggravated assaults by 2.5%. The rates of burglary, theft from autos and auto thefts also were down.
"We have a decline of crime again in the Valley, which is really a great and pleasant surprise," said Lt. Dan Hoffman of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau. "This year, the community stood tall and supported us and we tried to do the same for them."
The Valley's drop mirrored similar improvement in major cities nationwide, according to the FBI.
For police, though, it sometimes seemed as if almost as much of the year was spent trying to alleviate public fears as fighting crime. At a homeowners association meeting with police in Woodland Hills this fall, the discussion ran the gamut from carrying concealed weapons to siccing dogs on day laborers.
"It seems like we're being surrounded," a woman said at the meeting.
Sentiments such as that prompted police to invite residents to identify the most troubling problems plaguing Valley neighborhoods by drawing up a series of reports. The reports revealed that endless graffiti, prostitution on public streets and gangs frightening families in parks were among the problems that upset residents most.
Police responded by cracking down on taggers, hookers and gangbangers.
Despite the gains made in community policing, police and residents agree there were too many victims in 1995. The list of those slain in the Valley revealed they were young and old. Some were killed fighting crime, others died committing one. One was a rookie police officer, another a graffiti tagger. There was a grandmother and a car burglar. One Neighborhood Watch activist was slain; another was arrested on suspicion of murder.
The year ended as it began--with controversial shootings in which average residents killed someone over a street crime, provoking national debates about crime and self-defense.
In January, Sun Valley resident William Masters fatally shot Cesar Arce, an 18-year-old graffiti vandal, who Masters said tried to rob him. Members of the Latino community denounced the decision of the district attorney's office not to prosecute Masters after concluding that he had acted in self-defense. Masters himself emerged as a hero in the eyes of many, who praised him for ridding society of a tagger.
Nearly 11 months later, Daniel McDonald, a 45-year-old Toluca Lake apartment manager who had waged a neighborhood anti-crime campaign, shot and killed a suspected thief as he fled after attempting to steal a car outside a McDonald's. But this time, prosecutors filed murder charges against McDonald after autopsy results showed that the victim, Henry Lemus, 23, of Hollywood, was shot in the back.
In May, the slashing deaths of two women as they left a Mother's Day dinner at Universal CityWalk, the fantasy-streetscape shopping center, alarmed Studio City residents and triggered an intense murder investigation.
North Hollywood resident Paul Carasi claimed to be present but unconscious during the attack on his mother, Doris, 61, and his former girlfriend, Sonia Salinas, 29. But within days of the killings, sheriff's detectives arrested Paul Carasi's girlfriend, Donna K. Lee, 44, who was found on the Hollywood Freeway bleeding from a stomach wound shortly after the two women were discovered dead. Carasi was also eventually arrested and charged with murder after investigators alleged that he had plotted the killings with Lee.
In June, a Taft High School senior who went to the movies with friends was shot and killed in Fallbrook Mall's parking lot after he was confronted by a group of taggers that went by the name Every Woman's Fantasy.
In July, a Neighborhood Watch activist was shot to death in a confrontation with a neighbor. Winnetka resident Keith Brown, who was married to a block captain, was shot in the back after he tried to defuse a quarrel between the alleged attacker, Scott Craft, and another resident.
The September slaying of Sandra Gallagher, 31, in Van Nuys led police on a chase for alleged cross-country serial killer Glen Edward Rogers. Described as charming and witty, Rogers is accused of killing red-haired women whom he befriended or seduced. The manhunt for Rogers ended last month, when authorities captured him on a Kentucky highway.
While some spent the year committing crimes, others dedicated their time to solving them.
The LAPD got a break in a gruesome murder case when Indonesian authorities arrested a suspect wanted in the slayings of two men and a woman whose decomposing bodies were discovered during the summer of 1994 in a Northridge storage locker. The suspect, Harnoko "Oki" Dewantono, later confessed to killing two of the victims and moving their bodies around the Valley before stashing them in the storage facility.
In April, investigators arrested two suspects in the 1993 killing of Laurie Myles, a North Hills woman shot to death in front of her 9-year-old son as she waited for her teenage daughter to finish a Bible class. Etienne Michael Moore and LaCedrick Johnson were arrested on suspicion of killing Myles during a random crime spree.
November's headline-grabbing killing of former Los Angeles Raiders cheerleader Linda Sobek led to a break in a Northridge murder case when freelance photographer Charles Rathbun was arrested. Following the Sobek killing, authorities linked Rathbun to the disappearance and slaying of Kimberly Pandelios, a 20-year-old model and Northridge resident, whose skeletal remains were found March 3, 1993, in the Angeles National Forest.
In 1995, police also tried to put the brakes on the escalating number of traffic fatalities on Valley streets--long a haven for speeders because they resemble mini-highways. Through November, 110 people had died in traffic accidents in the Valley.
The problem was underscored last month with the death of LAPD Officer Gabriel Perez-Negron, a rookie killed when a speeding car ran a red light in a foggy Reseda intersection and broadsided his patrol car. Toxicology reports showed that the driver, Tammy Danford, who also died in the crash, was under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine.
As a result of growing street carnage, officials are now developing a plan to use high-tech surveillance cameras to catch motorists who run red lights at accident-prone intersections. If approved by city and police officials, the cameras could be operating early in the new year.
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Crime in the Valley
The number of violent crimes in the Valley has dropped three consecutive years. There were 2.2% fewer crimes committed in 1995 than last year. Citywide crime totals also dropped 3.4%. Figures through Dec. 7 of each year.