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Figures Show Valley Crime Rate Continuing to Decline

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Crime rates in the San Fernando Valley have continued a three-year downward trend in 1996, with some of the more dramatic declines in the first five months of the year occurring in the region’s toughest neighborhoods, according to LAPD statistics.

Overall, reported violent crime has dropped 4% in the Valley, with a 14.5% plunge in the northwest Valley’s Devonshire Division. On the east side of the San Diego Freeway, in the busy Foothill Division, there have been five homicides this year, compared to 12 in the first five months of 1995.

“And 1995 was a slow year for us,” said Frank Bishop, lead homicide detective at Foothill.

The only Valley division to experience an increase was West Valley, which saw an increase of 6.8%.

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Property crimes such as burglary and auto theft are down 9.3% Valleywide. Even the West Valley Division registered a massive drop in that category.

“We’re a middle-class area,” West Valley-area Capt. Val Panniccia said. “Our property crimes have always been our biggest problem.” Those are down 17.3%.

Officials offered many theories for the decline. In Foothill, new programs targeting small-time crooks may be taking a bite out of the overall crime rate, police said. Capt. Vance Proctor of the Devonshire Division said increased overtime patrols and reverse drug stings in troubled parts of his division are also helping.

But all acknowledge that no one fully understands the ebb and flow of crime rates.

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“You can blame it on the tide, the heat, the cold,” said Det. Marshall White, lead homicide investigator at Devonshire.

“We on the LAPD are not taking credit for this,” said Lt. Dan Hoffman of the Valley Bureau, who instead attributed the drop in part to increased civilian support of the police--and even help from the media.

Another factor may be a 3-year-old truce among Latino Valley gangs, which frayed badly late last summer but some police say may be on the mend. Truce organizer Blinky Rodriguez says the increased peace is felt on the streets.

“From the street level, a lot of guys know they don’t have to dodge behind a trash can when a car goes by,” Rodriguez said.

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In Foothill, one of the most gang-plagued areas of the Valley, gang-related crimes are down 36% this year, Capt. George Aliano said. Foothill has also seen the largest drop in homicides.

A new crackdown on low-level illegal activity such as illegal parking, vending and graffiti was instigated in Foothill. Aliano said increased attention to quality-of-life issues tells crooks that the police mean business. And despite the more aggressive policing, complaints against officers are also down, Aliano said, from 21 last year to 12 now.

The most mundane arrest can net a big-time crook, Aliano said, citing one recent citation of a man for parking in a handicapped zone. Officers found a handgun in the car’s trunk, and it turned out the driver was wanted for armed robbery.

Not all areas have good news. In the Van Nuys Division, violent crime is down 4.4%, but homicides have tripled--from three in early May of last year, to nine now.

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Det. Stephen Fisk said there is no apparent pattern in the rise in killings. “There’s nothing much you can do about them,” he said. “They come at you from different angles.”

Police note that June is traditionally the start of the most violent time of year, summer months when youths are out of school and temperatures and tempers soar. But they remain upbeat about the decrease in crime in the Valley.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Proctor said.


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