Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
July 3, 2004

Jason Kandel
Staff Writer

The LAPD has come close to achieving Chief William Bratton's goal of reducing serious crime by 20 percent in 2004 but homicides have risen slightly citywide and skyrocketed by 48 percent in the San Fernando Valley, according to midyear figures.

Forty homicides were reported in the Valley between Jan. 1 and June 26, compared with 27 during the same period in 2003, the Los Angeles Police Department reported. The Valley crime spree caused the overall number of homicides to rise citywide from 247 last year to 256 this year.
About half of the killings are gang-related.

``It's frightening,'' said Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, a retired LAPD sergeant.

``The problem is, we've got these worthless gang thugs that terrorize neighborhoods. We've got a very small gang unit. There's too many thugs and not enough gang enforcement. They're outnumbered.''

Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, who heads the LAPD's Valley Bureau, blamed the Valley's high numbers, in part, on two unrelated incidents early in the year that left five people dead.

He added that Valley Bureau detectives and officers are working hard to solve the cases and continue suppressing activity with weekly crime stings and task forces, some of which are backed up with SWAT officers and state and federal authorities.

It is all part of a plan to meet Bratton's goal of making Los Angeles the safest major city in the nation by reducing homicides and other serious crime by 20 percent. The chief has been keeping the pressure on his top commanders at weekly meetings to review Compstat crime-tracking figures.

``There is some pressure at each Compstat meeting,'' Bergmann said. ``We had a bad year. But by the same token I think that both the chief and (Assistant) Chief (George) Gascon realize we've been trying every trick in the book.''

While Valley homicides are up, violent crime - which includes homicides, rape, robbery, assaults and abuse - dropped 15 percent in both the Valley and the city.

Valley auto thefts saw a 19 percent drop, from 5,685 last year to 4,579 this year. Citywide, auto thefts dropped 10.8 percent, from 15,934 to 14,216.

Arrests citywide were up 8 percent, from 68,079 last year to 73,536 this year. Valley arrests were up 3 percent, from 19,000 last year to 19,535 this year.

Homicide arrests saw the biggest gains. Citywide, they jumped 32 percent, going from 192 last year to 254 this year. In the Valley, homicide arrests jumped 67 percent, going from 42 last year to 70 this year.

Although this year's homicide numbers are up sharply from 2003, they are far lower than in 2002, when Los Angeles earned the dubious title of murder capital of the country, with 315 killings citywide and 61 in the Valley halfway through the year.

Two of the Valley's five LAPD divisions - Van Nuys and Foothill - have each reported a dozen homicides during the first half of 2004. That compares with five in Van Nuys and six in Foothill during the comparable period last year.

Eight homicides were reported in the North Hollywood Division, up one from last year, while the Devonshire Division saw a decline, from eight in 2003 to five this year.

The West Valley Division has had three homicides, up from one last year.

Van Nuys got off to a rough start in January when a gunman shot a parolee and two women in a Van Nuys apartment during an apparent drug deal. Police have no suspects.

``It's a time-consuming case,'' said Lt. Don Hartwell, who works in the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, which handles the high-profile and multiple-slaying cases across the city. ``Any case with narcotics is a challenge. We're working several different angles.''

North Hollywood detectives continue to check out leads in Tuesday's slaying of Naif Sahoum, a 41-year-old father of two fatally shot during an early morning robbery at his Lankershim Boulevard minimarket.

``This was an innocent guy. There was absolutely not a reason on Earth why he would be killed,'' said North Hollywood homicide Detective Martin Pinner.

Anyone with information is asked to call North Hollywood detectives, at (818) 623-4016. On weekends and during off-hours, call the 24-hour toll-free number at the Detective Information Desk, 877-LAWFULL (877-529-3855).