Crime & Justice

Crime jumps in LA, after years of decline

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

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The city of Los Angeles is experiencing an increase in crime, according to preliminary numbers from 2015, but criminologists say it's not necessarily time to worry.

Murders went up 10 percent over last year, according to the latest data available from LAPD. Meanwhile, robberies went up 12 percent and aggravated assaults 27 percent. 

Franklin Zimring, a professor of criminology at U.C. Berkeley, said those numbers should cause concern, but not panic. 

“There is nothing alarming about the rate of any of the crimes reported,” said Zimring.

First off, the Los Angeles Police Department says it’s doing a better job of accurately counting aggravated assaults after the Los Angeles Times uncovered poor accounting, so that increase may reflect better accounting more than an actual increase. Aggravated assaults helped drive the percentage rise in overall violent crime, which was about 20 percent. 

The jump also comes amidst historic crime lows, Zimring said--and the numbers, while troubling, are relative.

This year, the city recorded 280 murders as of last week--26 more than were killed in 2014 in a city of about four million people. 

In 1990, murders topped 1,100 in Los Angeles.

Preliminary numbers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols unincorporated county areas and 42 cities, also showed an increase in murders. As of December 5, murders were up 33 percent in those areas, from 132 last year to 177 in 2015.

The question for Zimring is whether the crime increase will continue.

“If we were to take these double digit rates and compound them, then there would be real reason to be concerned,” he said. “Is there any indication of that kind of sustained increase? Not in Los Angeles.”

Not yet, said Zimring, who has studied crime trends for three decades.

That's little comfort to those in the hardest hit areas of Los Angeles. The harbor area and neighborhoods just south of downtown in the LAPD’s Newton Division saw the biggest jump in murders. There, the year has been filled with community gatherings trying to address the violence and increased police patrols. 

In April, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a shift of 200 LAPD officers into the department’s elite Metropolitan Division to combat rising crime. The unit is deployed to high crime areas in unmarked cars. He also increased funding for anti-gang programs.

But crime continued to rise, albeit at a lower rate, according to the LAPD.

Assistant Chief Michael Moore said the new Metro units have not had time to have their full impact reducing crime.

Along with violent crimes, property crimes jumped in 2015 by about 10 percent. 

Driving the increase was a hike in car thefts and a smaller increase in burglaries.

The reason for the jump is unclear, Zimring said, as crime trends are hard to attribute to any one cause, especially over a relatively short period. 

Earlier this year, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted increased gang friction in areas of South L.A.--as well as higher crime in Downtown L.A., where new, wealthier residents are moving in next to Skid Row. 

Robberies in the LAPD’s Central Division, which includes Skid Row, jumped 42 percent this year – from 471 to 669.

Beck has also suggested voter approved Proposition 47, which reduced some drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, may impact crime rates by reducing jail time for some criminals.

However, he's said there's no hard evidence the law change caused the uptick in crime.