The past year saw a significant drop in violent crime in areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, including a 20.5 percent dip in homicides when compared to 2016, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Thursday.
McDonnell noted that the drop in the number of homicides can be attributed in part to a 46 percent reduction in areas patrolled by deputies in the sheriff's Compton, Century and East Los Angeles stations.
The sheriff's department reported a 4.6 percent drop in so-called "Part 1 crimes," meaning there were about 3,600 fewer violent and property crimes over the past year.
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McDonnell noted that while the preliminary data was positive, the numbers should be considered "in the context of a very difficult police environment."
The department also reported a 4.5 percent dip in rapes, while robberies were down 2.3 percent, aggravated assaults dropped by 2.2 percent and burglaries were down 2.4 percent.
But LASD more than doubled its narcotics arrests in 2017, making 1,028 arrests compared to 719 in 2016, McDonnell said.
"Our goal is to get people into treatment rather than incarceration," the sheriff said, but added that substance abuse treatment is "woefully under-funded" and difficult to utilize.
McDonnell further reported an increase in human trafficking-related arrests and investigations in 2017, noting that 76 victims -- including 50 children -- were rescued "from a life of exploitation few of us could imagine."
Lt. Kent A. Wegener of the L.A. Regional Human Trafficking Task Force said his bureau was also going after the "demand side" -- using decoys posing as young girls on the internet to uncover predators and pimps. Of the 521 human trafficking-related arrests in 2017, 159 were considered "sex buyers," Wegener said.
Such criminals "could be looking for an 11-year-old kid," but might actually be unknowingly chatting online with a sheriff's deputy, he said.
While there were 137 gang-related homicides in 2016, the number so far this year has dropped to 100, a 27 percent change, McDonnell said.
The sheriff pointed to the department's proactive gang-suppression activity and strong enforcement "when we start to see things jump off" on the streets for the lower number.
"Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to check in with a kid" to stop a situation that might otherwise have ended in murder, McDonnell said.
The sheriff predicted that cyber-crimes, including computer fraud, would increase in the coming years.
"We as a society don't even know the scope of it," McDonnell said. "We are all vulnerable."