News / Perspective

Is Long Beach A "Very Safe City" As Police Chief Opined? See Data; You Decide


(Oct. 21, 2012) -- As reported on Oct. 12, LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell said during a televised interview (Art Levine's Straight Talk) that if the city had the police officers that were eliminated with budget cuts over the past three years, the current upward crime trend could be reversed.

Chief McDonnell called the crime increases predictable and expressed concern about the direction in which crime is heading, but added that in 2010, LB had 40 year lows in crime and when compared over a ten or twenty year period, he believes Long Beach is "a very safe city."

The Chief did a genuine public service by speaking plainly about the real-world results of the Council's budget choices. However, we respectfully disagree with the view that Long Beach is "a very safe city" when made without geographic context.

"Citywide" crime statistics are useful for some comparisons but they include an inherent inaccuracy: by definition, they combine a city's safe areas with less safe areas. As a result, citywide data unavoidably overstates crime in safer parts of town while understating crime impacts in less safe parts of town.

This is true to some extent for all cities but it is especially stark in Long Beach. Large parts of the city don't experience anywhere near the level of violent crime experienced by other parts of town. Safer parts of town are dismayed to find themselves tarred with televised images of shootings and murders (all identified as in "Long Beach") that don't reflect their reality. Conversely, residents and businesses in other parts of Long Beach shake their heads as politicians spout "citywide" data that don't reflect what they see and hear daily.

Earlier this year, used information obtained from LBPD under state freedom of information law, and thanks to the mapping expertise of LB neighborhood advocate Jennifer Gomez, produced an interactive map showing the locations of LB shootings in 2011. We titled our Feb. 2012 story a "Tale of Two Cities."

The map below speaks for itself. Much of LB is nearly entirely free of violence...while other areas experience crime at levels unimaginable just a few miles away.

Long Beach had 235 reported shootings in 2011; the map below includes shootings up to Nov 14; Google's map system stopped adding locations on a single map when we hit 200.
View 2011 shootings, Long Beach, CA in a larger map reminds our readers that mapped locations are more than data points. Each location means a person became a victim and families and businesses in the nearby neighborhood likely experienced police activity that included crime scene tape, containment perimeters, helicopters and more.

Want an update? Below is a screen save of the interactive map visible on LBPD's website this morning (Oct. 21), compiled by (a City paid webdata provider), showing homicides and assaults with a deadly weapon (includes shootings as well as other deadly weapon assaults) for the past six months (to April 21, 2012). Again: it speaks for itself.

Trying to minimize LB's crime increases by comparing them to levels of 10 or 20 years ago is very unpersuasive. During the same period, New York City under Mayor Rudi Giulliani (elected in 1994, the same year as LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill) increased police, restored public safety and brought prosperity. The Big Apple actually became safer per capita in terms of violent crimes based on official crime stats reported by both cities to the FBI.

What's needed now is to face facts. During the 1990s, then-Councilman Les Robbins remarked that in his view, there are very few serious problems in Long Beach that aren't in some way related to public safety. In our opinion, his statement was right-on then...and the maps on this page show that it remains so today.

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