Crime in Los Angeles dropped significantly in the first six months of 2006, according to statistics released Friday, increasing the possibility that Police Chief William J. Bratton would end his first term in office with four straight years of declines in crime.
The decrease was led with a 10.8% decline in citywide homicides between January and June 3 compared with the same period in 2005 -- from 213 down to 190. The city's total crime cases dropped about 11% this year.
The declines were seen across the city, but Bratton said he remains concerned that violence in South Los Angeles remains far too great.
The area, which contains about 13% of the city's population, accounts for 43% of homicides, Bratton said.
If the south bureau "was a separate city, it would be one of the most dangerous cities in the world," Bratton said, speaking from the 77th Street Division headquarters -- nexus of some of the city's worst crime problems.
The numbers reveal a wide racial divide regarding violent crime.
Blacks make up about 11% of the city's population but account for 38% of all homicide victims and 29% of suspects, according to the statistics. By contrast, whites make up 30% of the population but account for just 6% of homicide victims and 2% of suspects. Latinos make up 47% of the population and constitute 50% of homicide victims and 66% of suspects.
Those statistics, however, don't take into account socioeconomic factors. For example, some of the largest concentrations of black and Latino residents in Los Angeles are in some of the region's poorest areas. About 38% of residents in South Los Angeles live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. census.
Bratton and a collection of police officials cited the ongoing problem of gang violence as one of the major factors driving the homicide rate. Nearly half of all homicides in the city are gang-related, as are 84% of homicides with victims age 35 or younger.
Intertwined with gang violence are the proliferation of firearms and the drug trade, Bratton said. Eighty-two percent of all killings in the city involve handguns.
He spoke Friday flanked by tables covered with more than 400 guns, all confiscated in the first four months of this year in two police divisions -- Southeast and 77th Street.
"To complete the obscenity, we should really have a big pile of drugs alongside the guns," Bratton said. "It's the holy trinity: guns, drugs and gang members."
While hailing the dropping crime rate, Bratton and his officers appealed for greater community cooperation. Police have long complained about the difficulty in getting witnesses to cooperate in murder investigations, especially when gangs are involved and the witnesses fear retaliation.
"We can't do it without you," Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger said. "We need your sight. We need your voice. We need your courage."
But persuading community members to volunteer information and tips faces challenges -- especially in the most violent areas of South Los Angeles. Addressing that concern requires ensuring the safety of potential witnesses and reestablishing community trust in the local police, he said.
"Some of it is a lack of confidence" in the police, Paysinger said. "Some of it is because of fear."
Det. John Radtke estimated that fear of retaliation affected 90% of potential witnesses who could otherwise help police crack unsolved homicides.
"People do not want to be seen as a snitch or an informer," he said.
Bratton said South Los Angeles will be one of the bigger beneficiaries as the LAPD adds more officers and other resources. The City Council last month approved a raise in trash fees to pay for more officers. Plans call for an extra 1,000 officers to be added to the force in the next five years. The department now has about 9,300 officers.
Bratton has wide praise for one aspect of the LAPD's efforts since taking office in 2002.
He has credited his department's aggressive policing -- using computers to break down crime patterns, moving extra detectives and officers into high-crime areas, focusing on the small number of criminals who commit the majority of offenses -- for bringing about the declines. But some crime experts cite a variety of reasons, including Los Angeles' relatively strong economy and the dramatic gentrification of many once-tough neighborhoods.
The trash fee increase was considered a key victory for Bratton, who has long fought to boost the LAPD's ranks.
Monthly residential rates for homeowners will go from paying $11 now to $18 later this year, then to $22 the next fiscal year, $26 the next and finally to $28.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The city of Los Angeles has recorded 190 homicides this year through June 3, a 10.8% decline from the same period last year. Forty-seven percent of the homicides are believed to be gang-related.
Racial/ethnic breakdown of gang-related homicide victims
Racial/ethnic breakdown of all homicides versus city population
% of population: 47%
% of homicide: 50%
% of population: 11%
% of homicide: 38%
% of population: 30%
% of homicide: 6%
% of population: 13%
% of homicide: 6%
May not add up to 100% due to rounding.