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LA sheriff: decline of gangs helped push crime down in 2014

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell attributes 2014 crime reduction to better policing and community relations. Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Crime fell 6 percent last year in the wide swaths of Los Angeles County patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Wednesday. The agency patrols the county’s unincorporated areas and 42 cities, including Compton, West Hollywood, and Lancaster.

Mirroring national trends, violent crime fell 4.9 percent in 2014, compared to the year before, and has plummeted 20 percent over the past five years. There were 149 murders last year, down 10.5 percent from 2013.

While McDonnell credited better policing, he also said improving community relations as one reason crime is down. Those relationships have gotten better over time, he argued, despite news of corrupt and brutal deputies inside the jails.

“It really comes down to a great partnership with the community,” the sheriff said. 

That partnership has improved in part because of the declining influence of street gangs, according to Captain Rod Kusch, who heads the Sheriff Homicide Bureau.

“Their strangleholds on neighborhoods is weaker,” Kusch told KPCC. “In the past, that’s driven people away from cooperating with us. They’ve been afraid of retaliation.”

Illegal drug transactions occur mostly behind closed doors now and gangs are less visible in many neighborhoods, Kusch said. “If you have confidence you can talk to police without repercussion, you’re more likely to talk to them.”

Gang crime as a percentage of overall crime is down, according to McDonnell. For example, 63 percent of the murders last year were gang-related. In 2013, 70 percent of murders were gang-related.

The sheriff’s reported drop in crime contrasted with an increase in crime reported by the LAPD. Violent crime jumped 14 percent last year in the city of L.A., due in large part to a rise in aggravated assaults. Police officials attributed the increase to a reclassification of aggravated assaults.

McDonnell said he’s not detected crime classification problems at the Sheriff’s Department. He added that crime rates often vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

One interesting crime trend: property crimes fell 6 percent in 2014, despite predictions from some law enforcement officials that a reduction in state prison sentences for lower level offenders would lead to an increase.

“We have not seen that,” McDonnell said. He said police departments have done a good job of monitoring felons on the street. “to ensure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

But McDonnell said its too early to determine the full effect of Proposition 47, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors and allowed some prison inmates to petition for early release.

The sheriff delivered the 2014 crime statistics amid an ongoing federal investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption his department. McDonnell, who took office just six weeks ago following the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca, said he did not know whether there would be new indictments.

“We are cooperating fully with the federal investigation,” McDonnell said.