Los Angeles’ 297 murders last year is quite a drop from the 1990s, when annual homicides regularly topped 600, says the Christian Science Monitor. Police unions, urban policy analysts, and the American Civil Liberties Union all praised the Los Angeles Police Department’s efforts at building bridges with the communities it serves. “The LAPD took three major steps that turned what arguably was once the nation’s poster police agency for racism, abuse, violence, and brutality into a model of professionalism, efficiency, and community sensitivity,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
Improvements in technology like video, DNA testing, and cell phones – have made solving homicides far easier, resulting in fewer cold cases, says Lisa Smith, a professor of criminal law at Brooklyn Law School. She and other analysts are wary of heaping too much praise on police departments for driving crime rates down. “It is instructive to look at the individual precincts and compare their year-to-year homicides,” says Smith. “How many of those homicides involve strangers and how many are interpersonal disputes? How many homicides are solved versus unsolved?” Another view: “A slow economy usually means less people out and about getting into confrontations,” says Joey Lipari of Citizens Alert at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “The police departments always try to take credit for drops in crime, but its not clear to me, or most criminologists, what exactly causes the stats to fluctuate.” Says Lance Hannon, a sociologist at Villanova University: “Sometimes you find out that the crime rate was going down long before the police did anything different and was also going down in other cities as well.”