By Charles Crumpley, Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal.
When we reflect on the remarkable revival and development that’s occurred in such places as Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Venice in recent years, we seldom think of this: Dramatically lower crime rates made that gentrification possible.
If you’re younger than, say, 35, you probably don’t remember the so-called crack epidemic. That’s when urban areas across the United States pretty much emptied out in the 1980s and into the ’90s as crime soared.
Reports of violent crime in Los Angeles hit a high of 1,824 for every 100,000 people in 1991, according to the state Justice Department. But crime declined thereafter. In fact, it went all the way down to 405 by 2013 – a drop of 78 percent! Property crimes dropped big, too.
As crime decreased, businesses and homeowners filtered back into urban areas. To be sure, there were other reasons for the urban migration, but a big reason – in my opinion, the biggest reason – was the lessening of crime. It was like when “Jaws” ended and people felt it was safe to go back in the water.
I bring this up because, alas, crime went up in 2014 and again last year. According to published reports, violent crime was up big – 20 percent last year in Los Angeles. Property crime was up 11 percent.
Granted, we’re still a long way from the dark days of the 1980s and ’90s. But we’re headed the wrong way. And it doesn’t take much to turn opinions. You might recall in 1988 a 27-year-old graphic artist, out celebrating her promotion in Westwood, was killed when she was shot accidentally in a gang crossfire. Westwood got the reputation as a gang hangout like that, patrons deserted, and that business and entertainment district was never the same.
You may have seen last week where L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck asked for 2,500 additional officers – that’s a 25 percent increase – because of the rise in crime. (So much for the “savings” from Proposition 47, which last year let thousands of people out of prisons and jails.)
The vice president of the police officers’ union, appearing before the city council’s Public Safety Committee, said the need for more officers is urgent. “Crime is up now,” said Sgt. Jerretta Sandoz.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Councilman Mitchell Englander allowed that public safety meeting to run long because, he said, “this is absolutely the most important conversation right now in the city of Los Angeles.”
But that ticked off Council President Herb Wesson, who was waiting to convene a full meeting of the City Council. Because Englander’s meeting ran long, Wesson didn’t get a quorum and had to postpone his meeting. Wesson, according to the Times, said: “No single issue is more important than the regularly scheduled business of the City Council.”
Englander later apologized. But I think he was right initially. Rising crime is the most important conversation for the city. Absolutely.
This may be a silly little thought, Councilman Wesson, but those of us who fear being mugged, burglarized or worse, and those of us whose livelihoods could be imperiled by more criminality, and those of us who doubt that you or anyone else in the city will take meaningful action to thwart the increase in crime, might think that those things are a teeny bit more important than your postponed meeting.