With 2016 halfway done, violent crime is up in Los Angeles compared to the same period last year, mostly fueled by an increase in robberies and aggravated assaults.
Murders, meanwhile, are relatively stagnant from 2015, according to data from the Los Angeles Police Department. Overall:
- Robberies – defined as taking property by fear or force – rose 15.9 percent.
- Aggravated assaults – defined as attacking a person with the intent of inflicting severe injury – jumped 20 percent. Preliminary analysis indicates the increase in assaults are mostly related to domestic violence and homeless people attacking each other, said LAPD Commander Dennis Kato.
- Car thefts also are up 18.8 percent. 8,600 cars were stolen during the first half of the year. That’s 1,362 more than at the same time last year.
The overall crime numbers remain near historic lows, but the increases in robberies and aggravated assaults have police leaders worried. Figuring out crime trends is always tricky, but LAPD Chief Charlie Beck pointed to a number of factors.
A flare up of gang rivalries in some South LA neighborhoods is one problem, he said. Echoing his commander, Beck said increasing homelessness, with desperate people living in close proximity to each other is another reason for the jump in assaults.
“I think as the city and the county focus on reducing homelessness…that will reduce much of violent crime,” Beck told KPCC.
He also blamed the increase in violent crime on new state laws that result in the incarceration of fewer criminals, specifically the 2010 prison realignment overhaul and the 2015 voter-approved Proposition 47.
Criminologists say there is no empirical evidence to back the chief's theories up. Prison realignment shifted 20,000 prisoners from 2010 through 2013 from the state to county supervision, but those years saw crime drops, said U.C. Berkeley Criminologist Frank Zimring.
It’s too early to assess the impact of Proposition 47, he argued.
Zimring also cautioned against painting a bleak picture. Its too early to declare a trend, he said.
“In general, what Los Angeles is experiencing in 2016 is much closer to the low crime years that have characterized the last decade than it is to the bad old days,” Zimring said.
In the early 1990’s, murders topped 1,000 annually.
Murders numbered 131 through June 25—just five more than the same time last year. That’s at near historic lows. Burglaries—defined as taking property from an unoccupied home or business—are also down 8 percent.
In neighborhoods patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, including unincorporated areas and 42 smaller cities, the number of murders jumped from 64 to 80 through May, the latest available data. But that figure's also near historic lows.
Data, however, is of little comfort to Patrice Morgan, whose younger brother was shot in South L.A. three years ago. It’s hard to live normally after that, she said, her eyes tearing up.
“I have anxiety, stress,” she said during a recent LAPD town hall on gun violence in South L.A.
“I’m scared that it will happen again,” she said. “My son goes to the gas station, I’m nervous.”
In Boyle Heights last month, a ten-year-old girl crossing the street was hit by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting and was critically wounded. During a news conference announcing a $50,000 reward for information on the shooting, the girl’s father pleaded for the attacker to consider the damage he’s done to his daughter and the family, and to give himself up.
The LAPD has responded to the increase in crime by flooding high-crime areas with more officers. Last year, the department more than doubled the size of its Metropolitan Division to nearly 500 cops. They are not married to any one police station but can be moved into crime hot spots.
Much of the focus has been on South L.A., where nearly half of all gun-related crime occurs in the city.
The effort is aimed not on arresting people who might be carrying a rock of cocaine but on people with guns, said LAPD Commander Philip Tingirides. Officers are avoiding the mass arrests of the past, he said, and being more targeted.
While the LAPD has improved community relations, one problem endures, he said.
“There’s a lot of crimes where we know who did because we’ve gotten phone calls and we’ve gotten that information,” the grizzled veteran explained as he left a recent community meeting. “But we are still at a point where we can’t take it to court because people are too fearful to go to court.”