At least 72 people were killed in Compton in 2005, the highest toll in a decade for a city that has ranked among the most dangerous in the nation for 30 years.
The rise in homicides frightened residents who have long lived with high levels of gang violence but had seen a downturn in violent crime in recent years.
In addition to those killed in Compton, at least nine more people were shot to death in unincorporated areas within a few blocks of the city boundary.
Many residents have been frustrated over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department response that they found surprisingly passive in the face of unrelenting violence.
Compton ended 2005 with nearly as many homicides as there are sheriff’s deputies paid to patrol the city. Some residents have asked why city officials have not acted more forcefully.
The oldest victim was the first, Reginald Humphries, 61, found bludgeoned to death Jan. 7 in his home on 138th Street.
The youngest was a fetus, shot and killed in an attack in June that wounded five people, including her mother, who was eight months’ pregnant.
Within weeks of that shooting, the city had recorded 43 homicides -- more than all of 2004.
Three months later, a gunman shot another pregnant woman in the belly. A baby girl was delivered by emergency caesarean section, born a month early with a gunshot wound to her leg that required surgery. Her mother survived. Her father, Osiel Hipolito, a 20-year-old sailor and veteran of the war in Iraq, did not.
Deputies said Hipolito had no gang ties, and that the attack began when a gang member asked where he was from, and he replied: the U.S. Navy.
The shooting, in the middle of a September afternoon, was recorded by security cameras at a Compton-area mall where Hipolito, his wife and his teenage brother had gone to shop. By then, Compton had recorded 51 killings.
In October, a gunman fired at a male victim on a residential street until he was out of ammunition, then used his weapon to beat to death the victim’s female companion.
Two months and 10 homicides later, Labrina Pullard, 17, was shot to death while sitting in a car with her boyfriend, who was wounded in the attack.
On Christmas Day, two Compton men were shot to death -- one in the city, one just outside its borders. Both were Latinos in their 30s.
The city’s last victim, Jose Casillas, 19, was shot to death in the early morning on New Year’s Eve.
Overall, at least 25 of Compton’s dead were Latino, and 43 black. Fifteen were teenagers, six of them 15 or younger. Nine victims were men in their 40s or older.
In addition to those killed in 2005, sheriff’s gang officials recorded 282 shootings and attempted murders in Compton through the end of November, a nearly 25% increase over the same period the previous year.
The adult son of City Councilwoman Lillie Dobson was shot and wounded in the leg while riding his bike near his mother’s house late last year. Dobson said her son told her that a man had walked up to him and fired without saying a word.
“I think the people feel that they’re somewhat frightened,” said Otha Ray Scott, 74, a Compton Block Club commissioner and 49-year resident. “You never know what’s going to happen from day to day. It might be OK for this moment on this day, but tomorrow all hell may break out.”
The rise in killings, the vast majority believed by sheriff’s investigators to be gang-related, prompted concern among residents and elected officials but little action. A gang injunction being drawn up by an attorney for the city probably will take months before it is ready to be imposed, city officials said.
Compton, a city of 10 square miles and roughly 96,000 residents, disbanded its 100-year-old police force five years ago and now contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for 75 full-time deputies at a cost of more than $13 million a year.
As the violence in Compton rose during the year, Sheriff Lee Baca did not shift additional gang officers or investigators into the Compton station.
Baca’s department has more than 1,000 unfilled deputy positions, and department officials have said they cannot increase the number of deputies assigned to Compton unless the city can pay more.
City officials said they had no additional money. The per capita income in Compton is about $10,000, half of the county average.
As violence escalated in Compton, crime dropped in nearby areas patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Southeast Division station, which serves about 150,000 residents, recorded 62 homicides as of Dec. 24, down from 72 during the same period in 2004.
The division also reported a drop in shots fired and shooting victims. The LAPD deploys more than 250 officers in the Southeast Division to patrol an area about the size of Compton.
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said in a meeting at The Times in December that he believed his department’s success in reducing crime in South Los Angeles could have had a role in violent gangs concentrating in Compton. “We’re pushing it their way,” he said.
But Bratton also criticized Compton for not finding more money to pay for additional patrols. “Quite frankly, it’s a problem in Compton that they only want to pay for 78 sheriff’s deputies ... to try and police one of the most dangerous cities in America? Sorry, you get what you pay for,” he said. “It’s incredible what’s going on over there.”
Bratton called the situation in Compton “very controllable,” but said reducing crime would require higher levels of law enforcement, as well as creating new opportunities for young people there.
In addition to inadequate staffing, mistrust of police on the part of many residents also has hampered law enforcement efforts in Compton. Witnesses frequently are not willing to come forward with information about crimes. Sheriff’s homicide detectives made arrests in a fraction of Compton’s killings last year.
“The biggest thing that was wrong was lack of participation by the citizens,” said Scott, the Block Club commissioner who walks the streets near his home knocking on doors and checking up on complaints made to Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun.
“They’re going on eggshells,” he said. “They don’t see nothing. They don’t hear nothing, and that’s one of the responses to the police department. ‘Did you see the guy? What was he wearing? What was he driving?’ They see it but they’re afraid of retaliation.”
Rudolph “Rock” Johnson, chief of staff of Amer-I-Can, a gang intervention program, opened an office in Compton in November under a yearlong contract, the first such city-sponsored effort in recent years.
Johnson, a former Crips gang member who was reared in Compton and served 17 years in prison, called the circumstances in his hometown “rough.”
“People are concerned,” he said. “I don’t think people know how to deal with it. It takes more than law enforcement. All the guys I’m out there talking to in these neighborhoods, they all want jobs, but a lot of them are former convicts on probation.”
For some longtime residents who take pride in the community, the rise in homicides has been discouraging, underscoring fissures in a town where 60% of the residents are Latino, but all elected officials are black.
Robert Carrillo, a Block Club commissioner and former City Council candidate, said “the first thing we have to do is unite.”
“We see the rise in crime, and we see that our city is not doing nothing,” he said. “I don’t see improvements.”
Carrillo, who moved to Compton in 1986, said he and others in his neighborhood are tired of hearing City Hall has no funds to act on pressing crime issues.
“If we cannot lower the homicides, people will not invest in Compton,” he said. “We have to work harder to stop the homicides and show that we are serious about change.”
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
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A sharp upturn in killings
Compton, which has been among the most dangerous cities in the nation for 30 years, had recently seen a downturn in killings. But in 2005, homicides rose back to a level that the city of about 96,000 residents had not experienced since the mid-1990s.
*--* Number of Year homicides 1985 63 1986 66 1987 85 1988 80 1989 83 1990 82 1991 89 1992 63 1993 66 1994 90 1995 82 1996 75 1997 68 1998 49 1999 55 2000 47 2001 45 2002 49 2003 44 2004 39 2005 72
Source: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department