Bratton: Crime will decline in 2009, but I won't set targets
As they touted another year of falling crime rates in the city, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton expressed confidence that 2009 would bring further declines in violence and theft.
Citing the uncertainty surrounding the city's yawning budget shortfall, however, a usually audacious Bratton stopped short of his tradition of setting a crime reduction target for the year. As reported last week in The Times, overall violent and property crime in Los Angeles fell 2.5% in 2008 compared with the year before.
Bucking the trend in some of the country's other major urban centers, the number of homicides in Los Angeles continued to fall to levels not seen since the 1960s. Three hundred and eighty-one people were killed last year -- 15 fewer than in 2007 and a nearly 40% drop from when Bratton took over in 2002. As in past years, the decline in property crimes, such as burglary and car theft, were down less dramatically than violent crimes.
The LAPD fell short, however, of meeting the goal it set at the start of last year to reduce crime by 5%. This year, Bratton said he was "backing away" from any such predictions until the city's budget was finalized, and it became clear whether the mayor and City Council would continue to spare the LAPD from any serious budget cutbacks.
Bratton wants to know that "the city remains committed to growing this Police Department," Villaraigosa said. "I know where the crime occurs. I know who it is. It's all those people who can't afford their own security -- their security is the LAPD. Our effort to protect those citizens has to be our priority and that need will have to be reflected in our budget. Once it is we can talk about setting a goal."
Bratton acknowledged that rising unemployment and the ongoing meltdown of the country's economy might have an influence on the rate of property crimes, but he reiterated his belief that the department's roughly 9,500 officers would be able to keep things in check.
Gang crimes, in particular, would continue to decline as the city better orchestrates prevention and intervention efforts, Bratton said, referring repeatedly to a new anti-gang strategy the mayor plans to unveil this month.
The event verged on a love-in as the two were joined by a cast of the region's leading law enforcement officials, including Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, as well as representatives from the FBI and other agencies. Before a bank of television cameras, the group congratulated itself for fostering the unusual level of cooperation the LAPD enjoys with the outside agencies.
-- Joel Rubin