Cops, Crime, and the Economy

Some time ago I was on patrol in a part of Los Angeles known then as now for its high level of crime. A woman driving through the neighborhood stopped me and posed some questions. She had been living in one of L.A.’s far-off suburbs, and she was contemplating a move into town where she would be closer to her job. In some ways the neighborhood would have been ideal for her. It was affordable, for one thing, and it offered handy freeway access for getting to her workplace downtown. Even when L.A. traffic is at its worst, which is to say most mornings and afternoons, she would have saved two hours on the road each day if she had moved from her current home in the suburbs.

Then came the snag: “How’s the crime around here?” she asked.

I confess to experiencing a fleeting temptation to equivocate. The woman, if I can render a judgment based on that most cursory of meetings, struck me as someone who would enhance the surroundings. She seemed educated and pleasant, she was well dressed, and the car she drove reflected, if not prosperity, a certain pride of ownership. She was in short the kind of person almost anyone would want to see moving in on the block, and the kind of customer any merchant would welcome. And as a police officer in the area, I reasoned that this woman’s home would be one less whose occupants would add to the neighborhood’s ills and my own workload.

But I could not lie to her. The answer to her question about neighborhood crime was anything but an inducement to settle there.  There had been, I told her, a gang-related murder only two days before, just a few blocks from where we were standing.  Burglaries and street robberies were common in the surrounding area, and the nearby major thoroughfare, on which she would have to drive on her way to and from the freeway, was well known for the prostitutes who did a roaring trade at all hours of the day and night, a trade which often involved servicing customers in cars parked on the adjacent side streets, making for the occasional unpleasant surprise for adults and unwelcome educational experience for children.

The woman thanked me for the information, and I wished her luck in her search for a new home, which I was certain would not be in that particular neighborhood.