Police: Crime stats not representative to city

Laguna Beach police contend that crime statistics in a recent health study don't add up.

The Healthy Places, Healthy People 2012 report pegs Laguna with one of the highest crime rates — 358 violent crimes reported in 2009 — out of 100,000 residents.

Those figures aren't necessarily a true picture, Lt. Jason Kravetz said.

Since Laguna Beach had a population of 24,017 in 2009, writers of the study had to multiply the number of violent crimes by four, he said.

"I don't think this type of statistical analysis is an accurate portrayal of criminal activity in smaller communities," Kravetz wrote in an email. "The fact that our residential population had to be quadrupled in order to come up with this hypothetical statistic doesn't present an accurate picture."

The 84-page study, which was done in collaboration with county and state agencies, ranks Orange County cities in categories such as life expectancy, commute time and other aspects that affect a person's everyday health.

Laguna Beach is a unique case. It has a high number of tourists and visitors who come to the city for its nightlife and beaches, then possibly stay for a few days and ultimately inflate violent crime reports, Kravetz said. That produces a number that isn't truly reflective of the city's residents, he contended, especially when on summer days, the city's population can triple.

Vehicle-related pedestrian injuries in the city were double that of some other cities in the report. Laguna Beach had 70 injuries or deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to 43 in neighboring Newport Beach and seven in Aliso Viejo.

Kravetz said most pedestrian collisions happen during the summer, when hotels are at capacity and the streets are packed.

Laguna Beach has been creative in its attempt to protect pedestrians, he said. In the 1980s, the city used a flag system where people would take a flag from one side and leave it on the other side. In the '90s, Caltrans installed street lighting and warning signs.

Most recently the city got state grants to do pedestrian decoy operations, where officers dress up in funny outfits and cross the streets with pedestrians to bring attention to safety.

Another category Laguna ranked high in: alcohol outlet density, which measures the number of places available to purchase alcohol. Laguna topped the report, with 4.5 outlets per 1,000 residents.

Higher alcohol outlet density can lead to more DUI-related pedestrian collisions, car crashes and DUI-related deaths, according to the study. With every 10% increase of alcohol outlets in an area, violent crime increases 1.7% to 2.1%, the study said.

Teen drinking was another category in the study, with Laguna teens trying alcohol earlier than others. The study reported 54% of freshmen from Laguna Beach schools said they had either a glass, shot or single serving of alcohol in their lifetime. The Orange County Health Care Agency said the results were taken from a sample size of 196 students from 2007-2008.

In response to the Police Department's look at the study, Travers Ichinose of the Health Care Agency responded via email: "The data are accurate in so far as reporting from cities to the FBI is complete and the FBI's population estimates are accurate."

Ichinose said the study is best dissected locally by those who know the community and that it is intended to spur conversation.

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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