Observing Los Angeles

Q: How low is L.A.'s murder rate?

arts-chili.jpgA: So low that "blood-chasing local television news stations will have to import footage from other cities to uphold their reputation for practicing the nation’s worst and silliest local reporting," writes New York Times online commentator Timothy Egan. His piece is about the turnaround of the crime-soaked L.A. that Egan, then a NYT reporter, felt relief escaping after being here to cover the 1992 riots: "The sense of menace, of collapse, of utter unsustainability was strong. What a pit, I thought, and a pity." Excerpts:

Not since the Beach Boys were in peach fuzz and crew cuts has it been so safe to live and play in the City of Angels. Believe it: you are more likely to be murdered in Columbus, Ohio, or Tulsa, Okla., than in the nation’s second most populous city....

I returned to that morbidly iconic intersection [Florence and Normandie] this week and it felt like, well, Omaha on a good day. Businesses, both chains and family-run storefronts, perked along. The nearby neighborhoods were mostly graffiti-free, with well-kept yards, churches and schools, and the rarest of real estate tags this year: a “sold” sign.

Of course, some dangerous ambient conditions remain. Chief Beck says there are still 40,000 gang members here — enough to fill a stadium— but that number is down by half from its peak.


The most crime-ridden communities were never as nihilistic as portrayed in 1992. But the bad guys did have the upper hand, in part because of the police. The L.A.P.D. had a notorious reputation — corrupt, racist, incompetent — that made a mockery of its motto to “protect and serve.”

Places like South Central Los Angeles were “a hated landscape,” says Chief Beck, a 32-year veteran of the force. Helicopters constantly buzzed overhead in the harsh sunlight, a soundtrack of dread. “It was just pure hatred, on both sides.”

Beck's optimism finishes the piece: "Absent some huge social disorder, this will be a golden age of policing,” he predicted. “I have been to every neighborhood of this city and the most popular piece of government now, by far, is the police officer.”

Photo of Art's Chili Dogs at Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles from Metropolitan Images.com

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