Crime & Justice

Big drop in summer murder rate likely result of focus on gang violence

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck stands at one of two new Ford Fusion hybrid pursuit-rated Police Responder cars unveiled at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on April 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck stands at one of two new Ford Fusion hybrid pursuit-rated Police Responder cars unveiled at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on April 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Summer in Los Angeles may have brought high heats, but it also signaled a cooling down on murder rates.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced Tuesday that the total number of homicides over June, July and August dipped to 59, which is much lower than the typical rate for the summer months, which recently has totaled in the 70s or 80s.

"It showed an appreciable decline and a reversal from last year for sure, which showed a truly unacceptable blip," said George Tita, a professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC Irvine. Last summer, there were 82 murders.

Tita, who has worked extensively with programs to reduce gun violence in Los Angeles, said last year's spike is likely an anomaly going forward due to innovations in policing. 

"The lessons of the past and the advances in data driven policing that the LAPD employs allows them to get a handle on the problem much sooner and not let it fester and bloom into an epidemic," Tita said. 

The strategies, however, are nothing new. Tita said analytically targeted policing strategies have been used for more than a decade. Police use data to determine which groups are more likely to be involved in violence, and then allocate policing resources in the specific areas violence is likely. 

In his announcement, Beck cautioned that the low numbers "will be difficult to replicate."

"I'm interpreting that as a police chief being cautious, as she or he should be, and not over promising," Tita said. Because homicides are relatively rare events, he said, a series of random, unrelated murders could completely change the rate.

Tita noted that much of the progress is likely related to gang-related homicide rather than domestic violence. That's because domestic violence "is a much more difficult situation."

"It is more of a private event, nobody's bragging or using graffiti to announce a potential conflict between partners," Tita said. "Because it's private it may have been known to the authorities in terms of prior abuse, but it's difficult to anticipate if you don't know."