Led by an increase in aggravated assaults, violent crime in Los Angeles rose during the first half of 2014, marking the first such increase in more than a decade.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the mid-year statistics Wednesday, saying his department was "very concerned" about the 2.9% increase in overall violent crime, a category that includes homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assaults.
Overall crime numbers—which include both violent and property offenses—were down 5.4% so far this year, according to LAPD data. But the rise in violent crime is especially notable because it's the first mid-year bump since 2003, when then-LAPD Chief William Bratton implemented CompStat, a data-driven computer system for tracking crime.
Beck said officials were still working on understanding the 12% increase in aggravated assaults. The uptick in aggravated assaults, he said, began about two months ago and was "sporadic" across the city.
"Aggravated assaults are the precursors to shootings and homicides, and we're very concerned about this trend," Beck told reporters. "We're looking at it, we're dissecting it. … We will keep a close eye on this as it develops."
In the first half of this year, 466 more aggravated assaults were reported compared with the same time period in 2013. Overall, 8,610 violent crimes were reported in the first six months of 2014, compared with 8,371 at the same point in 2013.
Department statistics show other types of violent crime have decreased so far this year. Homicides dropped 1.5%, robbery decreased 5.7%, rapes went down 1.3% and the number of shooting victims fell 12.1%. Overall, property crimes also fellby 7%, with a 14.6% drop in burglary and 7% reduction in motor vehicle theft.
Experts said the rise in violent offenses was relatively small given the decade of crime decline the city has seen.
James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said six months of data could be misleading. The increases could level out or reverse by the year's end, he said.
"Only when you start seeing crime going up for several years in a row, then you start asking questions about what's being done about it," he said. "But a six-month trend over one year over aggravated assault? I wouldn't get overly alarmed."
Charis E. Kubrin, a criminologist at UC Irvine, said it would be more telling if the aggravated assaults were attributed to one specific cause, or were centered in a certain neighborhood. Barring that, she said, the uptick reflects a reality she said law enforcement agencies will eventually face—crime is an equilibrium.
"It's been year after year after year of decline, and it's really difficult to get violent crime to decrease year after year. Given all these years … it's not at all surprising that we may see an increase," Kubrin said. "Frankly, I'm shocked that it kept going down as long as it did."
Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti said the increase could partially be because of changes in the way the department evaluates and classifies assaults.
"It may be up overall," Garcetti said. "But the number that are simple assaults versus aggravated assaults has also shifted, perhaps because of more aggressive reporting."
Beck said his department was "drilling down" to identify what exactly was behind the increase and what officers might be able to do to bring the numbers back down.
"We'll look at this. We'll make sure this is not tied to any particular crime trend that we can affect," he said. "There are variations in crime, and these things occur."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times