For the first time in more than four decades, Los Angeles is on track to end the year with fewer than 300 killings. The Los Angeles Times says it is a milestone in a steady decline of homicides that has changed the quality of life in many neighborhoods and defied predictions that a bad economy would inexorably lead to higher crime. As of mid-afternoon yesterday, the police department had tallied 291 homicides in 2010. The city is likely to record the fewest number of killings since 1967, when its population was almost 30 percent smaller.
Strikingly, homicides in the city have dropped by about one-third since 2007, the last full year before the economic downturn. The change, experts say, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts. and sociological influences. A significant factor, said Columbia University law Prof. Jeffrey Fagan, is the absence of a drug epidemic. The three periods in U.S. history when homicides have spiked, he said, coincide with the emergence of heroin, powder cocaine and crack cocaine, each of which gave rise to “a chaotic, violent street drug culture.”