Crime & Justice

Crime up in LA but chief says there's no one reason

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks about crime, as LAPD Chief Charlie Beck looks on.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks about crime, as LAPD Chief Charlie Beck looks on.
Frank Stoltze

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Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck spoke in detail Wednesday about L.A.'s 2015 crime numbers. 

The news wasn’t good.

Homicides rose 8.8 percent, total violent crimes jumped 20.3 percent and property crimes went up 10.7 percent. Beck cited myriad possible reasons for the spike. 

“Gang crime for the first time in eight years has increased,” Beck said at a news conference. In part, he said, the rise could have come from a flare-up in gang rivalries triggered by the release of gang members from prison.

In addition, Proposition 47 has reduced possession of a small amount of drugs to a misdemeanor. So officers are unable to arrest a gang member for having some cocaine in his or her pocket, said Assistant Chief Michael Moore.

"Those type of arrests would take a gang member off the streets for two, three or four days,” he said. 

That helps “short circuit” gang rivalries and retaliation, Moore said. “It may have contributed to this increase in crime."

Proposition 47 remains hotly debated. Beck was reluctant to blame the measure for the crime increase. He noted other states without such a measure have also seen an increase in crime.

At the same time, he lamented the fact that there has not been a substantial increase in drug treatment programs to help people who otherwise would be arrested or forced into rehabilitation before Proposition 47.

“We haven’t got it right yet,” he said.

Other possible reasons for the crime jump include the growing number of mentally ill homeless people on the streets, especially Skid Row, Beck said. 

“It has had a huge impact on violent crime,” he said, “because so many people are living in close proximity with substance abuse issues and mental health issues.”

Robberies in the LAPD’s Central Division, which includes Skid Row, jumped 42 percent this year – to nearly 700. Homeless people are both victims and perpetrators, police officials said.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For one thing, crime has been at historic lows. Total violent crimes are down 21.8 percent from a decade ago. In addition, the LAPD is counting more incidents as aggravated assaults, which drives up the violent crime number.

Mayor Eric Garcetti noted L.A. has a lower crime rate than New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston.

“L.A. is not going to hell in a hand basket,” said Councilman Joe Buscaino, himself a former officer. 

Beck and the mayor touted efforts to stem the crime increase.

The city has increased its spending on gang intervention efforts by $5.5 million. Its unclear what effect that had in 2015.

The LAPD is also doubling its elite units in unmarked cars that move into high crime areas on an ad hoc basis. Beck said those Metropolitan Division officers seized 300 weapons last year, and helped keep the crime increase from being even higher.

Beck made no mention of the so-called Ferguson affect, a theory that police officers are less aggressive in stopping crime because of the protests that grew out of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

He also countered police union claims that morale has dropped since Beck's decision to recommend criminal charges against Officer Clifford Proctor, who shot an unarmed homeless black man in Venice in May.

“I don’t believe that,” he said.

Beck said he spoke to more than 100 officers at a roll call in the Pacific Division where the shooting occurred. “When I left, they recognized me in a way that let me know that I had their faith.