Can Compton’s Anticrime Success Work Elsewhere?


A recent gang-related homicide was Compton, Ca.’s 10th this year, compared with 30 by early June a year ago, says USA Today. This city of 96,000 had 72 gang-related deaths last year, confirming again its reputation as one of the nation’s most dangerous places. What brought murders down was a strategy that has worked elsewhere: flood an area with cops, target the gangs, put their leaders in prison. As the FBI reports a rise in violent crime nationally after years of decline, Compton is on a pace for its lowest annual murder total in more than two decades.

In Oakland, which has one of the highest murder rates, police beefed up their presence this month in a troublesome east side district after talks with sheriff’s deputies in Compton. It’s unclear whether more cops are the long-term solution to spikes in violence. Budget-squeezed law enforcement agencies can’t afford to divert large numbers of officers to crime-ridden areas indefinitely. What happens when police back off? “Too often crime goes down, citizens don’t feel so fearful anymore, and they become complacent,” says Jack Levin, criminologist at Northeastern University. “They figure, ‘Let’s move on to resolve another issue’ ? maybe seat belts on buses or terrorism.” In Compton, more than 50 gangs compete for drug turf in 10 square miles. Task force officers focus on the 22 most active and violent.


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