Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Santa Clarita have long ranked among the safest cities in America, but Los Angeles? In fact, with crime on the decline, L.A. now stands as the second-safest U.S. city among those with more than 1 million residents, based on per-capita statistics released Tuesday by the FBI. Los Angeles’ suburban neighbors historically score well among cities with populations over 100,000. And Los Angeles’ feat is all the more remarkable, officials said, because its police force – roughly one-fourth the size of No. 1-ranked New York City’s – patrols a sprawling 469 square miles. “It’s a feather in the cap of the officers who work here,” said Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. “Continued crime reduction is what we take great pride in in the department.” And at a downtown news conference, Bratton also gave a brief overview of the city’s plan to deter crime on Skid Row. An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit has prevented the LAPD from arresting homeless residents camped on downtown sidewalks. “I’m not proud we have the largest open drug market in America,” Bratton said of the crime that plagues the homeless district. “None of us should be proud. It’s a disgrace.” Apprehending drug dealers and addicts with the help of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s, Health and Probation departments remains a clear priority for Bratton. But the chief also reiterated the city’s critical need for more police officers to quell gangs and other criminal activity. Officials say they have identified 178 gangs whose members sell drugs in the downtown area. “Gangs are still our source of violent crime,” Bratton said. “One, we’re small in size as a department. Two, we have a great deal of gang problems and, three, this is a large city.” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the crime statistics demonstrate the city’s commitment to law enforcement. “It’s a reflection of the tremendous work by the men and women of the LAPD and the strong leadership of Chief Bratton,” the mayor said in a statement. “It also underscores the need to expand the Police Department by the 1,000 officers we are seeking.” City Council President Eric Garcetti said the FBI numbers confirm the city’s progress in dealing with crime issues, but that more still needs to be done. “There are still too many neighborhoods where people don’t feel safe,” Garcetti said. “We have set aside more money to hire more police and, hopefully, we will soon start to see more officers deployed. “We are on the right track and the city is safer than at any time I can remember in my life, but we can’t rest on our laurels. It is something we need to work on constantly.” Councilman Jack Weiss, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the reduction in crime shows that the city has been on the correct path. “Ever since Chief Bratton has come here, we have seen declines in crime and it seems like we have been able to hold it down,” Weiss said. “That’s not to say we can’t do more, but I have confidence we are moving in the right direction.” However, Councilman Bernard Parks, whom Bratton replaced as police chief, questioned the validity of the statistics, noting that ways of reporting some domestic-abuse and theft cases have changed. “We have changed the crime we count as Part One crimes, so I don’t know if we can trust any of these figures,” Parks said. “We made a decision to not count certain crimes, so we don’t know what we have going on out there.” LAPD officials said they made the changes to meet federal guidelines. Despite the statistics, residents voiced skepticism about the safety of L.A.’s streets. “How can they say it’s safe?” asked Max Garcia, 36, of Northridge. “They should take a few rides through Pacoima and Van Nuys. It’s filled with gangs.” Many remained suspicious of the list of safe cities, given their day-to-day experiences living and working in an area where they’ve either seen or experienced crime. “I still wouldn’t leave the doors unlocked in my car,” said John Wright, 27, of Winnetka, who grew up in a tiny Illinois town where neighbors were trusted friends and doors were never locked. But his concept of safety changed dramatically 10 years ago, when he moved to Southern California and locking up the house became a normal part of life. Still, his car has been stolen, his garage broken into and all his tools ripped off. He chuckled at the notion that Los Angeles could rank high on any safe-city list. Sara Llanos, 65, of North Hollywood recalled that just a year ago, a man pressed a knife against her side and robbed the Panorama City dry cleaners where she worked. “I’ve heard of other robberies in the neighborhood,” she said and glanced out the window of her Tarzana shop. “We have to be very careful now.” Weaving extensions into her client’s long brown hair, hairdresser Erica Barrett of Reseda said she frequently hears gunshots and definitely doesn’t feel safe. “There are too many gangs,” she said. “There are always shootings.” Sherman Oaks’ Moe Hutchison was puzzled that Los Angeles is deemed safer than either Phoenix, Ariz., or Dallas, Texas, where he’s lived previously and which were ranked as Nos. 9 and 10, respectively. His car has been burglarized, but he never reported it, figuring that the LAPD had more pressing crimes to investigate. He wondered how many others haven’t reported crimes, and whether those numbers would alter the city’s standing. “I wouldn’t say I feel safe in L.A,” the 36-year-old said. “But I don’t feel unsafe.” Staff Writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report. [email protected] (818) 713-3664160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe Christmas Truce of 1914 proved that peace is possibleThe statistics are based on each city’s population, number of police officers, and total violent crimes reported, including homicide, robberies and assaults. The FBI doesn’t rank the cities, but releases the raw numbers, based on information provided by local agencies, said Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI. The figures showed that violent crime nationwide rose 2.3 percent from 2004 to 2005, while property crime fell 1.5 percent. Los Angeles, however, showed drops of 1.1 percent in violent crimes and 9.9 percent in property crimes. In the San Fernando Valley, violent crimes ticked up 1.8 percent, while property crimes plunged 20 percent. And homicides in L.A. fell 3.4 percent from 2004 to 2005, when 355 cases were reported. That’s a significant improvement from 2002 – the year Bratton was hired – when Los Angeles was singled out as the homicide capital of the nation with a total of 656 slayings. The crime statistics were released the same day as Bratton’s performance evaluation by the Police Commission.