L.A. area resident, how safe do you feel?

L.A. area resident, how safe do you feel?
A bicyclist pays no attention to a crime scene where sheriff's deputies and detectives are investigating a stabbing death at the Western Motel along Vermont Avenue in the Westmont area of Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times)

They could have been gunshots, the pop-pop-pop of staccato explosions I heard through my kitchen window on Friday night.

I stepped outside and surveyed the darkness from my frontyard. I could hear cheering from the house next door.


The Kings had just won the Stanley Cup. Those were fireworks I'd heard.

I knew that.

In 25 years in this neighborhood, I have never heard a gunshot — never had to worry that a car backfiring or the booming sounds from a neighbor's video game meant I ought to hit the floor.

That's a luxury that doesn't exist in many parts of the city, despite crime statistics that suggest Los Angeles is safer than it's been in 50 years.

The dividends of falling crime haven't landed evenly. That's largely because crime in some communities remains stubbornly high, but it's also because our experiences and perceptions dictate whether we feel under siege or safe.

My perception frees me to take midnight walks alone in my Northridge neighborhood, when it's too hot or I'm too restless to sleep.

Jasmyne Cannick can't do that. She could a few months ago, when she was living in the Mid-City area, near Crenshaw and Adams. "It felt alive there," she said. "You could walk at night. I could never do that where I am now."

When she had to move, she wound up in the Westmont area of South Los Angeles, just outside the city limits. "I'm scared out of my mind," she said. "Every day we're having two or three drive-by shootings."

Westmont is considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. It had 249 violent crimes in the last six months, according to The Times' neighborhood mapping project, and shootings seem to be rising.

But it's not just the numbers that rattle Cannick. It's passing a coroner's van and a phalanx of deputies when you turn onto your street. It's being afraid to walk back to your car after visiting a friend — who is too afraid to accompany you.

"What matters to the average person is how an individual feels in their home at the end of the day," she said. "And most people I know don't feel safe."


The Mid-City neighborhood Cannick moved from had 135 violent crimes in the last six months. My Valley neighborhood had five. But Cannick and I both felt secure.

That's because the impact of crime can't be measured just by police reports. Statistics help us quantify risk. But how do we calculate the value that simply feeling safe contributes?


That's bound to become part of the discourse as the public weighs in on LAPD Chief Charlie Beck's bid for a second five-year term.

"If you look at city-level stats, there's a pretty good picture," said UC Irvine criminology professor Charis E. Kubrin. "There's a lot to be happy about; L.A. keeps declining in crime rates."

But our perception doesn't always jibe with the facts. One random criminal breach can shake our security. Kubrin recently saw that firsthand.

There was an incident near her parents' home in an "absolutely safe" section of Encino. "Suddenly there are all these [security company] vans driving up and down the street," she said.

Everyone felt vulnerable, though very little had actually changed. "The unpredictability, the randomness ... that's what scares people," Kubrin said.

"If you live in a neighborhood where you're afraid of becoming a victim, you're less likely to walk the streets, to patronize the shops, to take your kids to the park," Kubrin said. "You're behind locked doors. The stress of that is exhausting, and it feeds on itself."

Whether you live in Encino or South Los Angeles. Or in Canoga Park.


At the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting in Canoga Park last week, local residents offered praise for Beck's department and had a few mundane complaints: traffic problems, illegal dumping, "outsiders" driving in from Calabasas to buy medical marijuana, young people gathering in the parking lot behind the Marshall's store to drink beer and smoke pot.

Police officers took notes and promised to take action. Canoga Park is part of the LAPD's Topanga division, which reported a 12.8% drop in crime this year. That's 300 fewer victims than the year before, a police commander announced.

But tell that to the woman who's lived in the neighborhood most of her life and wasn't burglarized until recently.

"Twice," she told the commission. "They broke in while I was at work."

When her children were young, they used to ride bikes around the neighborhood long after the sun went down. Crime rates might have been higher, but she never worried back then.

Now she's so afraid of being victimized she won't dare venture out after dark. She used to walk the streets for exercise; now she drives to a nearby park. She drove the few blocks from her home to the meeting because she's afraid to walk alone. She's frightened by the guys who gather near her house, drinking and talking loud. But she's afraid to report them to the police; they might retaliate, she said.

"I don't like being scared. I've lived here for 42 years," she said. "But I'm so afraid of this neighborhood that I'm starting to look to move elsewhere."

She might find a neighborhood with less crime, but she might not be able to leave the fear behind.

Twitter: @SandyBanksLAT