By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For now, the LAPD is pursuing a far more incremental plan than the $200 million expansion. The department has added 500 police officers since 2002, reducing major crime by double digits. Much of that success was the result of Bratton’s decision to use the computer program known as Compstat, a crime-mapping and data-collection system that revolutionized policing in New York City a decade ago.
Compstat allowed police to collect — and therefore organize and analyze — crime data based on time of day, type of weapon, type of victim and other factors. Using the data, investigators gleaned larger patterns and identified high-crime hot spots. Bratton held his top managers accountable for surges in crime in a specific neighborhood, on a particular block, even in an individual building.
Yet it’s one thing to use Compstat to focus on a spike in assaults or robberies, quite another to avert a homicide. Murder can be the end result of another crime — a robbery gone wrong, a fight that went too far. But who can be sure which crimes will turn lethal? In 2006, only three of the city’s 478 homicides began as robberies. Thus, of 13,497 robberies last year, only 1 in 4,500 turned into murder.
“It’s a prediction problem — where is the next lightning strike going to come?” says Jack Greene, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. “Clearly, in neighborhoods with high rates of violence, high numbers of repeat offenders, you narrow down that prediction problem. You’re not going to be out looking [for potential murderers] in the high-rent district with single-family homes. But guess what? You can still have a homicide there.”
Greene divides murders into two types: the ones that occur in public, like a gang shooting, and the ones behind closed doors, like a fight in a bar. Up to 60 percent of murders occur in public, according to Greene’s estimates, which explains why Bratton believes he can cut L.A.’s murder rate in half. To reach his goal, Bratton would need to target those public murders — especially killings committed by gangs, which are responsible for more than half the city’s crimes.
The problem is, the remaining 40 percent of murders are hidden from view — the unexpected byproduct of marital squabbles, father-son quarrels and drunken disputes. Those lightning strikes are simply more difficult to predict.
“We have a tendency to think of homicides as a serial-killer phenomenon or a gangbanger phenomenon,” says Greene. “But there are also a lot of domestic, routine homicides that occur between known intimates, often men and women, that are often difficult to prevent. We know, for example, that in the domestic-abuse arena, the use of court restraining orders doesn’t necessarily prevent one spouse from killing another. Short of putting a fence around that person’s house, or putting them under 24-hour surveillance, I’m not sure what the police can do about that.”
No one placed a security guard outside the Van Nuys home of Beverly Ann Kass. No one kept watch over her 1970s courtyard apartment on Sherman Way on April 2, 2006. What made the murder of Kass so chilling for her friends and family is that the man accused of killing her was no stranger.
A graduate of El Camino High School, Kass had bumped along from job to job, working as a receptionist in one office, doing odd jobs in another. What grounded her was her love for her 10-year-old son, a high-achieving boy who played clarinet and had an intuitive ear with almost any instrument.
By early 2006, Kass had found some measure of happiness. The 38-year-old divorcée had a boyfriend, Jonathon Arthur Hendler, an employee of a drug-rehab program she attended. She saw in Hendler a possible father figure for her son and was even planning an October wedding. “She was a proud, single mom raising a kid. She was very loving,” says her older brother Dennis Kass. “She was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, and for her to meet a violent end is just so sad, so wrong.”
Things changed utterly the day Kass got into an ugly fight with her fiancé. She wanted to break up, according to one of Hendler’s longtime friends. Hendler, still using drugs, flew into a rage. By the time Kass’ body was found behind a desk in her home, he was a fugitive.
As he hid from police, Hendler tearfully called one person after another to explain what happened. He telephoned one friend over and over, bluntly stating that he had strangled his girlfriend and didn’t know what to do. Distraught, he called a rabbi at the rehabilitation center where he worked. He even wrote a text message to his fiancée’s mother. Not wearing her reading glasses, and not knowing what the message said, she handed the phone to her son.
“It was just basically an apology,” Dennis Kass recalls. “We were standing with the police, and I handed it to them.”
Only after police arrested Hendler did the grieving family learn the truth: Hendler’s journal spelled out a history of violence. He had been convicted of three robberies and one first-degree burglary.