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December 27, 2010

Despite dysfunctional death penalty (and due to dysfunctional prisons?) murder rates at record lows in LA

As detailed in this new piece in the Los Angeles Times, there is some good end-of-year crime news in LaLaLand.  The piece is headlined "Killing in L.A. drops to 1967 levels," and it begins this way:

For the first time in more than four decades, Los Angeles is on track to end the year with fewer than 300 killings, a milestone in a steady decline of homicides that has changed the quality of life in many neighborhoods and defied predictions that a bad economy would inexorably lead to higher crime.

As of mid-afternoon on Sunday, the Los Angeles Police Department had tallied 291 homicides in 2010. The city is likely to record the fewest number of killings since 1967, when its population was almost 30% smaller.

Strikingly, homicides in the city have dropped by about one-third since 2007, the last full year before the economic downturn, according to a Times' analysis of coroner records. Throughout the rest of the county, which is patrolled by the L.A. County sheriff and individual cities' police departments, homicides during the same period tumbled by nearly 40%.  The Times' analysis showed 159 homicides in areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department and 164 in the rest of the county through mid-December.

The city's total translates into roughly 7.5 killings per 100,000 people and puts it in league with New York City and Phoenix as having among the lowest homicide rates among major U.S. cities.  "I never thought we'd see these numbers," said Sal LaBarbera, a veteran homicide detective with the LAPD.  "It is night and day compared to the old days. Night and day."

Longer-term declines are even more notable.  The city's homicide rate this year marks a 75% drop from 1992, when 1,092 people were killed during a crack cocaine epidemic and gang wars.  Homicides investigated by the Sheriff's Department have dropped by more than half since the mid-1990s.

The change, experts say, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts and sociological influences.

As the title of this post stresses, California's sentencing and punishment system is dysfunctional in many ways: the state has a massive death row and no execution, overcrowded prisons with unconstitutional living conditions, and a three-strikes law that is uniquely harsh and not consistently applied throughout the state. Nevertheless, at least by one critical metric, something is being done right in when it comes to crime and punishment in Los Angeles. Go figure.

December 27, 2010 at 12:26 PM | Permalink


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homicides are dropping in Italy too, and we are a long time abolitionist country. Mass imprisonment cannot be a rationale for the dropping: nor in Italy, nor in California. Something changed and we do not know what.

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Dec 27, 2010 3:25:08 PM

Years of stern sentencing coincides with a fat drop in the crime rate. My goodness. How befuddling.

California has had 13 executions since Gregg, meaning that the chance of getting executed for murder in California, while very small, is nontrivial. If you're a hit man, do you think you might want to consider that?

Not that there are any hit men, mind you. That's just a right-wing fantasy. You know, like meth gangs.

And yes, the prisons are overcrowded, meaning that a WHOLE LOT OF CRIMINALS are in them. And the crime rate falls!!!!!!!!!!! Lan' sakes alive.

And, too, California has a three strikes law which contributes in part to the crowded prisons. In other words, when we take criminals who do it again and again off the street, there is less of it getting done, meaning......now hold your hats....THE CRIME RATE DROPS.

It's all a gigantic mystery, I tell you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 27, 2010 6:35:34 PM

Bill's absolutely right. It's pretty darned obvious that putting an end to the revolving door will lead to safer streets.

Posted by: alpino | Dec 28, 2010 3:49:48 AM

the deterrence theory is a told story. Death penalty is NOT a deterrent anywhere in the world, and cannot be a deterrent in some American state, Mass imprisonment does NOT reduce crime; get a look at Finland.

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Dec 28, 2010 5:43:36 AM

Speaking to Scandinavians, one learns that a woman raped at the point of a knife (real rape) is strongly discouraged from filing a police report. If she insists, the charge is minimized, and ignored. If she makes noise, she is blamed for being flirtatious. One learns of much child physical and sexual abuse going on, despite all regulations discouraging corporal punishment.

So the low crime rates of Scandinavia are false, and their philosophy of Hug a Thug is hypocritical.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2010 9:53:28 AM

Suppie??? did you take your medicines this morning ??

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Dec 28, 2010 9:58:15 AM

In the US, deterrence is impermissible as a policy justification for the death penalty. One may not punish a defendant for the speculative future crimes of an unknown criminal without violating procedural due process right to a fair hearing. One may deter the defendant himself and still be lawful. However, the death penalty is not a good deterrent to the individual. The death penalty best serves to incapacitate the person, and that is its most valuable benefit.

As a general principle of remedies, there is a dose-response curve. So take a miracle cure like penicillin. Before pen, 90% of pneumonia patients died. After pen, 90% survived. Miracle. No? Now give penicillin at a 100th the proper dose. Give it only to 1 in 100 pneumonia patients. Do so 5 years after the start of pneumonia. In 20% of cases, give it to people who do not have bacterial pneumonia. Price each dose at $million. Require extensive hearings prior to the use of pen with strong opponents seeking to block its use. Outcome does not look like a miracle anymore, does it?

The abolitionists have a nerve to block the death penalty, then to claim it does not work.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2010 10:02:29 AM

Hey, do they not kill "abbastanza" in Oklahoma ???

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Dec 28, 2010 1:59:21 PM

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