When the candidates for Los Angeles’ next mayor talk about crime, they often seem to be describing different cities, says the Los Angeles Times. Mayor James K. Hahn describes steep declines in crime rates and a resurgent police force. His opponents cite rising crime in some neighborhoods and Hahn’s failure to come close to the 1,000 additional LAPD officers he promised voters four years ago.
Differences in timing are responsible for the conflicting claims. Hahn starts counting in 2002 – his second year in office and the year he forced Bernard C. Parks out as police chief. Parks, now a city councilman who is running against Hahn, prefers to talk about 1998 and 1999. In that period, under his watch, the city – and much of the nation – posted the lowest crime rates in years. Overall, serious crime citywide in 2004 was less than in 1998 – the best year under Parks. Those who study crime trends caution that comparing numbers from year to year can mislead. Meaningful change can be tracked only over longer periods. “The problem is when the crime rate goes down, they like to claim too much credit, and when the crime rate goes up, there is too much finger-pointing and blame,” said criminologist James Fox of Northeastern University. On the day Parks left the job in May 2002, there were 8,867 sworn officers. As of yesterday, the force was up to 9,131 officers. Arrests, which had fallen, have risen by about Police Chief William Bratton argues that the city needs 12,000 officers to be properly patrolled.