LOS ANGELES —
Despite violent events like last week's school shootings in Connecticut, the crime rate in the United States has generally been falling, and serious crimes like murder and rape have been declining. In Los Angeles, better relationships between the police and community are making neighborhoods safer.
A quiet afternoon is interrupted with the sound of helicopters as dozens of officers from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol capture a suspect in a robbery and shooting. The arrest followed a 100-kilometer car chase.
It took place outside a community center in a low-income housing project called Imperial Courts, where the Los Angeles Police Department was conducting a toy giveaway.
Police chief Charlie Beck helped hand out the presents. It was part of an outreach to the community in South Los Angeles that has led to a major drop in crime in these projects and the city. Things were different a few years ago, says LAPD Captain Phillip Tingirides.
“The everyday community folks were angry. There was some hatred towards us, for how LAPD had treated the community over a number of years prior,” Tingirides said.
Relations were at a low point in 1992, when civil unrest rocked Los Angeles. It was sparked by the acquittal of four police officers accused of beating a black motorist, Rodney King. More than 50 people died in the riots, and Gil Mathieu's pharmacy was one of the many businesses destroyed. It is open again today, and relations with police have improved, says customer Jerome Bynum. He has had many encounters with Los Angeles police in this place once plagued with drugs and violence.
“It's nothing to brag about, but I've been in the jail five times, two years each time,” Bynum said.
He says the neighborhood is better, and so are the police.
“They used to beat you up, then take you to jail, but I think they're getting better as far as how they treat the people in the street,” Bynum said.
Intervention workers help calm the streets after confrontations between gang factions, and police have started community programs, such as reading to kids in school and coaching youth football teams, says Captain Tingirides.
“And a lot of it is building relationships before you have a problem, so that when you have a problem, you know who you can go and talk to. You have already some sort of connection with that person. And that's what's making the big difference,” Tingirides said.
One longtime critic of the LAPD, Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, agrees that relations are getting better.
“I think we now see a genuine partnership that's authentic, and more importantly, crime has dropped because we now see community policing in our neighborhoods throughout south LA and the city. So I'm very optimistic that things will continue in the future to improve,” Ali said.
There was a national rise in assaults and property crimes last year, but the rate of murder and other serious crimes is dropping around the country, and the overall crime rate has been going down for decades. Police in Los Angeles say that with community help, they are keeping down crime by building one-on-one relationships in these neighborhoods.