Police Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday that the city had the fewest number of crimes last year since 1957 and overall crime was down for the ninth consecutive year, but there was one more homicide than the previous year.

A total of 104,215 violent and property crimes were logged in 2011, the lowest per capita since 1952, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Beck and Villaraigosa attributed the decline to the size of the police force–9,963 officers–which had been threatened by budget cuts early last year.

“We are a tempting target because we are so big and consume so much of the city’s budget, but that is a false savings,” Beck said. “Money towards public safety is the best money, the most important job of government.”

Beck ticked off a list of reductions in violent and property crimes, including drops of 19.9 percent and 8 percent for rapes and robberies, respectively, and a 5 percent reduction in burglaries, car thefts and other property crimes.

Beck singled out a 5.7 percent drop in aggravated assaults as particularly significant, calling the crime a precursor to homicide.

He said the city had more work to do in the area of gang reduction. More than half of the homicides last year were gang-related, Beck said.

“The number of homicides totaled 298–one more than in 2010. That’s still lower than any other year since 1967,” Beck said, while adding, “One more is one too many.”

The police chief said his goal for 2012 is to bring the total number of serious crimes below 100,000, a target he called “the holy grail of policing in Los Angeles.”