On April 30th, L.A. Weekly published a cover story ("Bratton: LA Is as safe as 1956")
that questioned the validity of Los Angeles Police Department Chief
Bill Bratton's insistence that this city's streets are as safe as
1956. We've received a lot of feedback from readers about our
findings and former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates was one of them, telling us in an email that comparing today's crime to crime of the 1950s or
1960s is "meaningless."
interesting points in his critique, but one that
boldly stands out in our eyes is that the former chief firmly backs up the
Karmen, a longtime critic of Bratton's who, in our cover story, shot down the 1956
While Gates never mentions
Bratton by name, he obviously has problems with the
current chief's use of crime statistics. Here's what Gates, who gave us permission to post his email, wrote:
"Dear Mr. McDonald,
"Your recent article regarding the use of crime statistics was most interesting. Los Angeles today clearly cannot be compared to Los Angeles in the early '50s or '60s. To use crime statistics is, of course, meaningless.
"There are so many other factors that need to be taken into consideration as you point out in your article. Crime statistics are difficult to compare because there have been changes in the way in which data are reported.
"For example, multiple crimes committed at the same time are no longer reported today as they were years ago. A carjacking occurs, the woman victim is robbed at gun point and physically assaulted -- all of those crimes would be reported and counted (as) carjacking, auto theft robbery, and (assault with a deadly weapon) in times past.
"Today, only the most serious of the crimes would be counted in the crime statistics. Not necessarily bad, but a change in reporting. There are others as well.
"Professor (Andrew) Karmen's analysis -- comparing murder and robbery rates per population -- is right on mark. Although given the better emergency medical care provided today, murders often become only ADWs when they would have been reported as murders many years ago. As you clearly point out, the use of crime data is not the way to compare L.A. today with L.A. of yesteryear.
"One factor that has not been mentioned, but I strongly believe is the major reason for crime going down all over the nation. The police have always been efficient in capturing criminals, but there were serious problems with prosecutions and sentencing. I made speech after speech telling the public that if we fill our prisons, and kept them filled with those who commit crime after crime -- the career criminal -- we will see a significant reduction in crime.
"The number of criminals is not an infinite number -- it varies -- but not infinite. It is finite. The reason that the number of criminals and crime appeared to be infinite is that the same people were moved through the system time and time again.
"We have finally gotten tough on crime and have filled our prisons with career criminals and have kept them there longer.
"I think the police, prosecutors, (and) judges are doing a fine job -- but the real heroes in this drama are the public who have said enough is enough and have voted in harsher sentencing [three strikes] and are unwilling to accept excuses for letting the bad guys go free.
"If we significantly reduce prison populations, as some keep urging--I assure you crime will go up exponentially. By the way L.A.'s crime rate was lower than 33 of the major cities in 1991 -- wonder what it is today in comparison!?
"Thanks for the article -- great public service. DFG, a former chief."
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.