Violent crime rose 14.3% in L.A.; officials vow action

Violent crime rose 14.3% in L.A.; officials vow action
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck attributes the increase in serious assaults to three factors: improvements in how LAPD classifies assault crimes, a spike in domestic violence cases and alcohol-fueled street attacks. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday he was disappointed to announce that violent crime rose for the first time in more than a decade, but vowed to work with police on strategies to make the city safer.

"Public safety is my No. 1 priority, so to see anything go up obviously is not the direction I ever want to see," Garcetti said. "Violent crime is up — we own that. Just as in other years when it's down, we own that too."

Despite last year's increase, Garcetti said the violent crime rate in Los Angeles remains at levels not seen since the 1950s.

Los Angeles Police Department statistics released Monday show violent crime was up 14.3% last year compared with 2013, driven by a spike in aggravated assaults, which increased 28.3%. Homicides and robberies were up slightly, and the number of rapes climbed nearly 21%.

The figures meant that 2,360 more people fell victim to violence in Los Angeles last year over the previous year. Last year's violent crime totals were also higher than 2012 figures, and the number of serious assaults recorded was the highest since 2010 — the year after Chief Charlie Beck was appointed to lead the department.

Property crime, which includes burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft, continued its downward trend in the city, dropping 4.6% last year compared with 2013.

City officials announced a set of measures Monday to combat the rise in violence, including a domestic violence prevention program to increase education and awareness. They also are seeking to expand the city's Domestic Abuse Response Teams to all 21 LAPD divisions from its current 10. The expansion of the civilian team will be funded with money raised by the Mayor's Fund of Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization.

In addition, the LAPD plans to use a $400,000 federal grant to tackle street-level violence in the four police divisions with the highest violent crime rates — 77th Street, Southeast, Southwest and Newton areas. The grant is aimed at improving data analysis and reducing recidivism rates in those areas, Beck said.

"The Los Angeles Police Department must be more effective," Beck said. "Part of that is reducing crime and building community trust."

Beck said the jump in rape incidents was due to an increase in "acquaintance rapes" that involved alcohol.

He attributed the increase of serious assaults to three factors: improvements in how LAPD classified assault crimes, a spike in domestic violence cases and alcohol-fueled street attacks.

The classification changes came after a Times investigation last summer that found the LAPD significantly understated the city's true level of crime when it misclassified nearly 1,200 serious violent crimes as low-level offenses during a recent one-year period. The bulk of those errors were made when police recorded aggravated assaults — attacks involving a weapon or serious injury — as minor incidents.

To determine how much of the crime increase was due to changes in record-keeping, the LAPD would have to correct errors made in previous years to ensure that comparisons were accurate, criminal justice experts said.

Department officials have declined to release multiple years of crime data that would have made such an analysis possible. The LAPD's inspector general is conducting an audit of the department's crime data that is expected to examine statistics from previous years.

Garcetti and Beck said they were focused on improving the data quality in the future instead of cleaning up prior years of inaccurate statistics. Beck said the FBI crime reporting program doesn't allow for revisions going back multiple years, and Garcetti said he would prefer to have an accurate baseline to compare future years.

"We do believe we are much more accurate today," Garcetti said.

The mayor said he would support independent audits of LAPD crime data every few years to ensure accuracy.

Judging the LAPD's violent crime trends over time is difficult because past years probably contain large numbers of errors, said George Tita, criminology professor at UC Irvine.

"We don't have as accurate a picture as we certainly would all love to have," Tita said. "But this is where we start counting crime again, and as long as everybody adheres to the process LAPD adopted in 2014, we will be good to go."

Following the Times investigation, police officials instituted reforms to improve the accuracy of the city's crime statistics. To carry those out, the LAPD formed the Data Integrity Unit — a small team of detectives and data analysts. Last fall, the unit trained hundreds of station supervisors, senior detectives and clerical staff on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines.

With last year's uptick in violent crime, Garcetti likened the LAPD to a winning baseball team that posted a rare losing season.

"I think L.A. is still a championship team," Garcetti said. "The difference between baseball and this is when those numbers go up, they aren't just losses you can discard, it may be lives lost or property lost. That's what keeps me up at night."

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