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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Makes Dubious Claim About Crime Rate

On Friday morning, through his Twitter account, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made the dubious claim that L.A. is "still safer than it's been in 50 years."

Which means we're back to 1960, when John F. Kennedy successfully ran for president, Elvis Presley was promoted to sergeant, and the Dodgers were still playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

But in an L.A. Weekly cover story, titled "Bratton: L.A. Is as Safe as 1956," crime experts have said such comparisons are "meaningless" and something of a sham.

"It's a silly comparison," Malcolm Klein, professor emeritus of sociology at USC and a gang-crime expert, told the Weekly last year. An author of books on gang crime, Klein noted that when Bratton started publicly comparing crime levels of the 1950s to 2008, "You're not listening to a chief of police, you're listening to a politician."

Apparently the same goes for LAPD chief Charlie Beck, whom Villaraigosa also mentions in his tweet, writing that Beck backs up the idea that L.A. is as safe as 1960.

Yet Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at the highly respected John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who examined L.A.'s crime rates of 1956 and 2007 for the Weekly also described the claims by Villaraigosa and Bratton as "meaningless."

Karmen says comparing crime statistics from 50 years ago to today rarely, if ever, match up well.

Villaraigosa and the LAPD, however, refuse to stop making the comparison, with the news media often repeating the questionable claim.

Even former LAPD chief Daryl Gates, before he died, wrote in an email to the Weekly that "Los Angeles today clearly cannot be compared to Los Angeles in the early '50s or '60s. To use crime statistics is, of course, meaningless."

Gates added, "There are so many other factors that need to be taken into consideration ... Crime statistics are difficult to compare because there have been changes in the way in which data are reported."

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.