Crime & Justice

Record-breaking crime dip in Long Beach - but officer-involved shootings rise

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announces record low violent crimes in Long Beach in 2013.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announces record low violent crimes in Long Beach in 2013.
Rina Palta / KPCC

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Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said Thursday initial data from 2013 show the lowest violent crime numbers for the city in 41 years - but they also show a spike in officer-involved shootings.

The number of rapes and robberies in the city in 2013 was the lowest since the city began keeping records in 1970, McDonnell said. Aggravated assaults dropped 17 percent from 2012 numbers and auto burglaries dipped more than 18 percent.

"These exceptional numbers are the result of the focus, innovation, and tremendous work ethic demonstrated by our employees," McDonnell said.

However, the number of murders ticked up last year - from 30 to 32 - as did residential burglaries and petty thefts. Most controversial was the near doubling of officer-involved shootings in the city last year.

In 2012, the Long Beach Police Department reported nine officer-involved shootings. In 2013, there were 22 - including three involving animals and four cases where weapons were accidentally fired. McDonnell defended the number.

"There's been much discussion regarding officer-involved shootings during the past year," McDonnell said. "In almost all of these incidents, the suspect shot at or used a weapon either directed at an officer or at a third party victim."

In one incident in November, a woman holding a fake gun was shot by officers. Asked about the episode, McDonnell said officers spent two hours trying a number of tactics to engage the woman before she pointed the replica firearm at officers and was shot. She survived. As of yet, she has not been charged with a crime.

"It looked very real," McDonnell said of the fake gun. "So, a tragic situation - and one that we continuously look to find: is there a better way to do what we're doing?"

McDonnell attributed the high number of officer-involved shootings, at least partially, to the Long Beach Police Department's quick response time to 911 calls.

"This proactive style of policing also means our officers have an increased likelihood of encountering crimes in progress and suspects fleeing from the scene or remaining at the scene," McDonnell said. He said while the national average for response times is somewhere around 11 minutes, in Long Beach it's 4.5 minutes.

McDonnell also said the department has hired outside experts to review its use of force policies, a process that should wrap up in the next couple of months.

Along with historically low violent crime numbers, McDonnell announced further good news for the department: 40 recruits graduated from the police academy in December, the first influx to the department in years. Another academy class begins in Spring.