The New York Times profiles the city that was once subjected to one of the most fearsome riots in modern history:
Since then [the riots in 1992], homicide is down nearly 80 percent through this year,
and overall violent crime has taken a similar plunge. In 2008, the last
year for full F.B.I. statistics, even Omaha, Neb., had a slightly
higher murder rate than L.A.
And the trend continues: murder in L.A. is now down 50 percent from
the relatively placid levels of two years ago. At this rate,
blood-chasing local television news stations will have to import
footage from other cities to uphold their reputation for practicing the
nation’s worst and silliest local reporting.
I'm a resident of Los Angeles and haven't seen a crime committed in the 7 years I've lived here. My home town, London, is far, far worse for violent crime, robberies and theft. People in London are usually shocked when I tell them it's worse there than in L.A, but there really is no comparison. I do live in a pretty nice neighborhood out here, but I lived in a nice neighborhood in London and still felt far more threatened there than I do here.
Understanding the reasons behind crime and why it can spiral out of control, or rapidly decline is not an exact science. Poverty, drugs, social alienation and poor policing surely have their roles, but it's hard to pin down exactly why the crime in one big city is far worse than in another. The Times has a stab at it, admitting the causes are speculative:
A high-tech mapping strategy, where police move on crime hot spots in
something close to real time, was pioneered in New York and mastered
here (give praise to William Bratton, who oversaw the departments in
both cities, for that effort); the stuffing of prisons with career
criminals also gets much of the credit; the role played by legalized
abortion, according to the authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in
their book “Freakonomics,”
in preventing a generation of unwanted children from being born; and
the settling down of the drug trade, the source of so much violence
during the formative years of narcotic fiefdoms, to such a degree that
in many parts of the city there are now more medical marijuana
dispensers in Los Angeles than Starbucks outlets (regulated retailers
creating an ecosystem of nonviolence).
The Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner claim is, I think, highly dubious. Abortion was legalized in the UK around the same time as it was in the States (1967 in the UK, and 1973 in the U.S) yet London experienced a massive crime wave at the same time New York and L.A were experiencing massive crime reductions. I'm more inclined to believe that effective policing is responsible for maintaining low crime rates, as I have personally witnessed the LAPD in action. They are far more intimidating than London policemen, mostly because they carry large guns and will arrest you very quickly for minor infractions. In the UK, there is a general lack of respect for the police and people will take extreme liberties with them without too much fear of reprisal. I'm not necessarily saying it's a good thing that the LAPD have a fearsome reputation, but it does, in my view, lead to lower crime rates.