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L.A. County sees big drop in January homicides

February 2, 2010 |  7:12 am

http://latimes.image2.trb.com/lanews/media/photo/2009-10/50036313.jpg

Los Angeles County began 2010 with significantly fewer homicides in the month of January than in recent years, including a 40% drop in the city of Los Angeles, according to a Times analysis of crime data.

With homicides already at their lowest levels in decades, countywide there were 51 killings in the first month of 2010, compared with 78 homicides in January 2009, according to data gathered for the Homicide Report. There were 79 homicides in January 2008 and 81 in January 2007.

LAPD officials said there were 20 killings last month compared with 33 in January 2009. Gang homicides are down by more than half compared with the same month last year, authorities said.

Officials noted that killings are always somewhat cyclical -- but said they were pleased with the results.

“Some people will say it is the weather or the weak economy. But we have been very focused like a laser on gang crime and we’ve seen a significant drop in gang homicides compared to this time last year,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger.

The LAPD has also seen steep drops in the numbers of shots fired and overall shooting victims.

Paysinger said January 2009 -- which overall had numbers comparable to previous years -- was a particularly tough month in Los Angeles because Ervin Antonio Lupoe, a 40-year-old X-ray technician, killed his wife and five children at their Wilmington home before taking his own life.

There were no such mass murders in LAPD territory in January.

In South Los Angeles, traditionally the most deadly part of the city, gang intervention work in 2010 is better organized and helping officers prevent violence from escalating when a confrontation or shooting occurs, said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.

“One thing it is not is the weather. The declines occurred before the most recent rains,” he said. “This is one of the biggest declines I can recall.  This would be 240 homicides for a year if it held up."

In 2009 there were 315 homicides across the city.

L.A. isn’t alone in seeing a drop in killings. Long Beach had three homicides in January, compared with seven in the same month for each of the three previous years.

Inglewood had four killings in January 2009 and has yet to record any this year, according to L.A. County coroner’s records.

L.A. County Sheriff’s homicide detectives, however, saw a slight increase in their cases.

So far sheriff's investigators have seen 22 homicides in January 2010 compared with 20 in January 2009. Among the killings is the unsolved triple murder of Brittany Howard, her brother Brandon Wright and boyfriend Ivison Washington inside a Lawndale townhouse.

LAPD's Paysinger said he was cautiously optimistic about the downward trend, even as the department grapples with an ever tightening budget. He cautioned, however, that the numbers could change.

For instance, Paysinger said that in February 2009 there were 18 homicides in Los Angeles, a very low total for a month that averages 24. He said that summer months are traditionally the ones that decide overall crime trends for a year.

He said he believed that the low homicide numbers underscored that the transition from former Chief William J. Bratton to Chief Charlie Beck has been made without missing a step.

“Bratton jump-started the organization. But as the numbers show we continue to make gains,” Paysinger said.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: LAPD officers at new headquarters. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.

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