Before the re-election of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last month, Bill Bratton, the statistics-driven chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, appeared on TV in a political advertisement paid for by the Villaraigosa campaign. The L.A. Weekly says he cited a seemingly amazing figure about this city's livability: “Crime is down to levels of the 1950s,” said Bratton.
“It's a silly comparison,” says criminologist Malcolm Klein of the University of Southern California. Prof. Andrew Karmen of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who examined L.A.'s crime rates of 1956 and 2007, says, “Looking at murders and robberies – the crime that people really care about – we're not back yet to 1956 crime levels.” Bratton bases his claim on numbers that compare the FBI’s “Part I” crimes of today – homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft – with “Part I” crimes of past years on a per capita basis. Karmen says Bratton fails to compare the seven categories of Part I crime of 1956 to the same seven categories of today's Part I crime on a one-on-one basis, comparing homicides and robberies, for example.