By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Dennis Kass, who had eaten dinner with the couple a week earlier, had no idea. “You look back and you go, boy, do you screen your adult sister’s dates by running a criminal-index search?” he asks. “It’s not something you think of doing. My sister didn’t learn anything of this until the end. He’d hidden it from everyone.”
Kass’ case was not unique. In the Valley, one of every nine murders in 2006 involved domestic violence. Two months after Kass perished, police arrested a 32-year-old day laborer in Canoga Park for allegedly slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend. Two months after that, police identified a Sherman Oaks man as the killer of his girlfriend.
Yet if Kass’ family couldn’t see warning signs, who could? The rehab center? Hendler’s friends? More than a few experts insist that counselors need to step in and address violent behavior long before adulthood. “A lot of the work is being done in high school, but that’s a bit too late,” says Billie Weiss, a communications director at the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center at UCLA. “The attitudes have already been formed.”
Weiss praises the work of the Colorado-based Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, which studied 600 anti-violence programs and identified 11 that met a scientific standard for effectiveness. Some were comparatively new, such as Norway’s Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which assigned counselors to work with child bullies. Others were more tried-and-true, such as the century-old Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, which recruits mentors for children from single-parent homes.
Weiss was one of the researchers who spent part of 2006 trying to determine why L.A.’s gang prevention programs, which are supposed to keep children from engaging in violent behavior, were having so little success. Within six months, the researchers concluded that few of the L.A. programs had a coherent way to measure success or a clear mission — whether that meant “having no youth enter a gang, reducing violent acts, having set reductions in gang participation or ending the gang altogether.”
With the $200 million needed to fulfill Bratton’s LAPD expansion, the Big Brothers program could reach 200,000 students per year — nearly a third of the children attending L.A. Unified. Whatever the solution, earlier is better: “Violence is a learned behavior,” Weiss says.
Kass, an attorney with a 15th-floor office downtown, doesn’t know what could have stopped Hendler. Perhaps, he says, a longer prison sentence or more watchful co-workers or friends. While some criminologists voice doubts that police can prevent domestic-violence killings, the man who reviews the data for the LAPD disagrees.
“People say it’s not repressible, that you can’t put a cop in every living room,” says Detective Jeff Godown. “But you can put out education. You can put out programs that would get a husband into counseling. If nothing is preventable, then why do we continue to do this?”
With wire-rimmed spectacles and silver, slicked-back hair, Detective Godown is the LAPD’s numbers guru, a 26-year veteran who skipped college, joined the force and ascended through the ranks. He relies on information typed in by data-entry worker bees, who assign a handful of four-digit codes to each crime. Did a murder happen on the sidewalk? Compstat has a four-digit code for that. Did it involve a knife? Compstat has a number for that too.
With five days left in 2006, Godown sat in his Hollywood office reviewing numbers for various areas. Of 88 murders in the San Fernando Valley, 21 hit on a Sunday. Nearly half occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight. Nearly three-fourths of the 88 victims were Latino, as were the vast majority of murder suspects.
The numbers seem like abstractions, except that all the data collected by Compstat helps police decide where to be next. If half the crime occurs between 6 p.m. and midnight, that’s the time to send out the bulk of the officers.
The way to stop a crime, Godown says, is to remove one of three factors from the equation: the victim, the suspect or the location. To remove a location, police can target a park frequented by drug dealers. To remove a potential victim, police can warn vulnerable types, like naive tourists walking in Hollywood at 2 a.m. Police in the Wilshire Division spent part of 2006 trying to remove suspects from the equation, targeting 16- and 17-year-old gang members from the southwest part of the city who traveled to Koreatown to commit robberies. They were exactly the type of nervous, inexperienced criminals who, on a dime, could escalate robbery into murder.
But many other factors — ones that have absolutely nothing to do with police — can also prevent a murder, Godown explains. The suspect could have bad aim, or the victim could turn as a weapon is fired. “The difference between a homicide and an aggravated assault — it can be a matter of inches,” he says. “It could be the competency of a doctor. It could be how fast they got to the hospital. If I get shot, you know where I want to be sent? L.A. County Medical Center. That emergency room pumps out more gunshot victims than anywhere else in the city.”
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