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(SACRAMENTO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today reported that preliminary figures show crime in California dropped by 12 percent in the last year with the most significant decline in the number of murders in the City of Los Angeles.
"We in law enforcement have our work cut out for us more now than ever before," Lockyer said in his first State of the Public Safety Address to the Comstock Club. "As Attorney General, I want you to know that the highest priority of my office will be to continue to bring crime rates down."
The California crime report* shows that between 1997 and 1998:
* Homicides dropped by 20 percent
* Robbery declined by 17.2 percent
* Motor Vehicle Theft decreased by 13.5 percent
* Burglary dropped by 11.4 percent
* Aggravated Assault was down by 8.8 percent
* Forcible Rape declined by 2.6 percent
*The report compares preliminary crime counts for 1998 with final counts of 1997 for the 76 jurisdictions with a population of 100,000 or more that represent 65 percent of the state's total population.
"These are not just numbers - each one is a crime with a human victim, sometimes more than one," Lockyer said.
The preliminary crime report from the largest police and sheriff's agencies in the state shows overall there were 700,000 felony crimes in 1998, down from 785,000 felony crimes in 1997. The murder rate in California dropped by nearly 20 percent, largely the result of homicides in Los Angeles declining to 424 in 1998 or 152 fewer than a year earlier.
"The drop in homicides is a credit to the hard work of law enforcement and community groups in Los Angeles which have worked long and hard to reduce gang crime there," Lockyer said.
"It's a dramatic drop in homicides, yet we are still seeing body counts that look like we're coming out of a combat zone," Lockyer said. "We are still left with a murder rate in California of 6.4 human beings a day, 45 a week, 192 a month - every month."
Noting that more than two-thirds of all homicides in California are caused by guns each year, Lockyer pledged to "fully enforce California's assault weapons ban and to limiting the murderous potential of these weapons by reducing the number of rounds which may be carried in a magazine." He also said it was time to limit the sale of cheaply made Saturday Night Specials and to require safety devices on all firearms.
"Citizens have a right to bear arms, but they don't need assault weapons designed for war any more than they need hand grenades or mortars," he said. He added that the California Department of Justice will be prepared to monitor weapons sales to help the City of Los Angeles enforce the "one a month" limit on weapon sales. The local ordinance, which takes effect May 1, 1999, limits handgun sales to one a month per buyer.
Lockyer said that attention is needed as well to address problems of drug trafficking, juvenile crime and law enforcement challenges in such specialized areas as domestic violence, crimes against children, elder abuse, hate crimes and school violence.
"We need to reach out to victims of crime -- to provide help in their time of need and necessary support long after justice has been served," Lockyer said in announcing creation of the Office of Victims Services in the Department of Justice to coordinate and strengthen victim support programs.
Lockyer outlined other priorities that include sponsoring and supporting legislation to create an Office of Youth Violence Prevention within the state Department of Justice; improve the reporting of crimes against the elderly; streamline and improve California's death penalty appeals process; strengthen California's ban on military-style assault weapons; and protect consumers and businesses from unscrupulous and anti-competitive practices.
"We must continue to seek better ways to do things right and to find new things we haven't done before," Lockyer said. "Only in this way can we protect public safety."