I look at crime stats the way I used to look at baseball statistics when I was a kid. Now, instead of checking on Sandy Koufax’s strikeouts, I check the homicides in each Los Angeles police division.
The other day, on the LAPD website, I came across one stat that struck me as stunning, though in a good way. As of then — and as of midnight, New Year’s Eve — LAPD’s Hollywood Division recorded two homicides in 2017: Jimmy Bradford, 47, and Bryan De La Torre, 21.
Hollywood Division has never ranked in the stratosphere of homicides. It’s not like the 77th or Southeast, where in violent years past more than 100 killings were not unusual. But two? The last few years, the Hollywood total has been seven or eight, and the peak was 35, back in 1995.
Then, as I took a closer look, I noticed that while homicides were down 71% compared to 2016, and robberies down 5%, aggravated assaults were up 21% — 680 compared to 581. That seemed odd.
I had lunch with the commander of Hollywood Division, Capt. Cory Palka, and he gave me his explanation. Not particularly politically correct, he came out fast with a reasonable rationale.
“The decline of what I call neon club culture,” he said. “We closed three clubs in Hollywood that were a magnet for the urban crowd of South L.A.”
Hollywood’s story is to some extent the city’s story: Killings are down. Assaults are up.
It doesn’t take a sociologist to figure out “urban” means black.
“Of course, the vast majority are good people. But with an urban crowd from South L.A., you are going to have some gang members. That’s just the facts. And you have club owners with an encouraging attitude — over-serving alcohol, not having proper security — that fuels the situation. Throw in gang members from different neighborhoods, and you get killings.”
Palka said that in each of last few years there were always two or three club-related killings in Hollywood. Because of strict enforcement of various codes, the Cashmere, Cosmos and Supper Club were closed. Last year, no club-related killings. And just one related to gangs, that of De La Torre.
There is still a vibrant clubbing scene in Hollywood, but according to Palka, it caters to a different, often gay, clientele. “That’s fine with us. You don’t have Rollin 60s going there because of the gay element.”
He also cited a crackdown on the so-called Yucca Corridor open-air drug market, as well as local gang prevention and gentrification as keys to making most of Hollywood safer.
The gangs in question — the 18th Street Hollywood Gangsters clique, Mara Salvatrucha 13, White Fence — have had their presence diminished by years of pressure and a new tactic Palka and the division’s gang unit endorse: respect.
“We build relationships,” said gang unit Lt. Jeff Perkins. “It goes both ways. But they know, if [you] commit a crime in Hollywood, we are gonna come after you and you will go to jail.”
Gentrification has meant an increase in the division’s Hollywood Entertainment District force, which now has a lieutenant, five sergeants and about 80 officers. They patrol the area bounded by La Brea, Argyle, Sunset and Franklin, prime tourist territory.
“There are billions of dollars invested in Hollywood and there is a concentrated effort by the police to keep that area safer,” Palka admitted. “I’m all for more expensive restaurants coming to Hollywood. I’d rather have the customer willing to pay $10 for a beer over the customer who pays two bucks for a beer.”
He gave an example of what “safer” means.
“Around the corner from the Pantages, there were a couple vendors selling illegal ‘Hamilton’ T-shirts. Husbands would go on this darkened street and pull out cash because the bastards were too cheap to pay 50 bucks for their wives for a real shirt. And they were getting robbed left and right. We put a stop to that.”
As for the aggravated assaults: “My commanding officer, Mike Moore, says, ‘Your numbers are up, your numbers are up.’ But we have traded major assaults with gang members that can lead to homicides for a homeless man hitting another homeless man with a wrench. Do I want that? Of course not…. Would I rather have that? Yes.”
He also said he knows that sounds wrong, but the truth is the truth.
So Hollywood’s story is to some extent the city’s story: Killings are down (not in every division, but most: the 77th recorded a city-high 49 homicides, sadly about par for the course the last few years; but the once-deadly Rampart Division had 12 killings in 2017, compared to 22 in 2016). Assaults are up. Tamping down gang activity helps the homicide count but the assault problem is bad, and about as intractable.
In a utopia, there wouldn’t be any homeless people attacking each other. And in even a junior utopia, the homeless encampments along the freeways and underpasses would be as safe as Hollywood Boulevard.
I got word about two months ago that an old friend was homeless and living along the Hollywood Freeway near Western Avenue. I checked it out. I didn’t find my friend, but I discovered a sad, eerie tent village, with a foot-wide path separating the shelters from a rocky, 45-degree dropoff to the 101.
The LAPD can’t make that dangerous encampment disappear, and officers might not work a homeless-on-homeless assault like they would a lady from Kansas getting attacked in front of the Chinese theater, but a homicide is still a homicide.
Jimmy Bradford, one of the Hollywood’s two 2017 homicides, was homeless, stabbed to death near an onramp to the 101 on June 12. On the board at West Bureau Homicide next to Bradford’s name it reads “cleared by arrest.”
As for the other homicide victim, Bryan De La Torre, his case hasn’t been cleared. “But homicide is still working it,” said Palka. “Working it hard.”
We can wish L.A. were Utopia, but I’ll take just two killings in Hollywood.
Michael Krikorian is the author of the novel “Southside.” @makmak47
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