JASON BOOTH Staff Reporter Despite a falling crime rate, murder remains the most common form of occupational death in California. In an attempt to reverse that trend in Los Angeles, UCLA, Athena Research Corp. and the Los Angeles Police Department are participating in a federally funded study to help small businesses in the city of L.A. reduce the risk of violent death or injury to their employees. Since it began last year, the program has provided more than 150 convenience stores, bars and other late-night businesses with low-cost, customized security plans. “The goal is to evaluate how different security measures work in different settings,” said Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa, an epidemiologist at the UCLA Southern California Injury Prevention Center, who is leading the project. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had contributed around $350,000, with extra costs being covered by UCLA. The project has particular urgency following a list of recommendations made April 28 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington. Those include the installing of bulletproof glass, drop safes and external lighting at robbery-prone retail outlets. The primary objective of the UCLA project is to find less-expensive remedies for the high murder rate among retail employees. Under the program, UCLA selects shops within the city of Los Angeles to be helped, with an emphasis on small businesses that are open at night in high-crime neighborhoods. Once a business signs up, security experts from San Diego-based Athena Research visit the premises and draw up a security plan. Following a round of inspections, the business is supplied with a list of recommendations and educational material at no charge. “We work to harden the target,” said Dr. Rosemary Erickson, president of Athena. “We alter the risk-reward ratio by making it more difficult to rob a store and reduce the amount of money the thief can get away with.” An emphasis is placed on low-cost measures, such as training, rather than expensive purchases of anti-crime equipment. Once the security measures at a store have been upgraded, UCLA field units monitor the crime situation at the establishments over the next year. “If we can find commonality between those stores that don’t get robbed and those that do, we can use our findings as a template for businesses in general,” said LAPD Capt. Jim McDonnell, who is providing technical assistance to the UCLA study.