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Violent crime in L.A. rises 12.7% so far this year, but overall rate is up only slightly

Killings in Los Angeles have surged 27.5% so far in 2016 compared with the same period last year as the city continues to see a rise in violent crime, LAPD officials said Tuesday.

The jump in homicides along with double-digit increases in aggravated assaults and robberies contributed to a 12.7% rise in violent offenses, LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told police commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday.

In contrast, property crime has fallen 2%, fueled largely by what Paysinger described as a "remarkable" 16.2% drop in burglaries. As a result, overall crime is up less than 1 percentage point from 2015, Paysinger said.

For months, the LAPD has been dogged by a citywide rise in crime — the first after years of declining numbers. Last year marked the second year in a row in which violent crime jumped, but it was the first since 2003 that both violent and property offenses increased.

Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas cautioned that the percentages would probably fluctuate as the year progressed. He said the rise in killings was more pronounced in part because of lower-than-normal numbers seen in February and March 2015.

The city has seen 48 homicides so far this year, Villegas said.

Villegas, whose office tracks citywide crime and helps coordinate the LAPD's response, said he was encouraged by the low number of violent crimes the department recorded last week: 417 offenses compared with the average of about 470.

The LAPD has deployed several strategies to combat the uptick in violent crime: increasing gang intervention and prevention efforts and doubling down on community outreach. The department also expanded its Metropolitan Division, a group of highly trained officers who flood crime hot spots to prevent further violence.

LAPD brass constantly evaluates and retools those approaches, Villegas said. But, he said, they were similar to the strategies that were successful in driving crime down for more than a decade.

"It's not like these strategies don't work — they clearly work," he said. "The evidence to that is this: With the strategies that we have in place, our violent crime arrests are up. And with the strategies we have in place, our property crime is down."

The LAPD has seen a 9.5% increase in arrests of violent crime suspects this year, Villegas said.

This year, the LAPD's Central Bureau has seen the largest crime increase at 4.5%. The South Bureau, which covers South L.A., has seen a 3% jump. The two remaining bureaus, which cover West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, have seen crime decrease compared with the same period last year.

Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said two divisions in Central Bureau, Newton in South L.A. and Hollenbeck on the Eastside, saw a surge in gang violence at the start of the year. Although homicides stayed relatively steady, he said, the divisions saw an uptick in shootings.

Some of the gang violence was different than officers had seen in the past, Arcos said: feuds involving more gangs, including some that had been relatively inactive.

The divisions brought in more officers to conduct parole and probation checks, he said, and signal to potential offenders that police were paying attention. Officers also reached out to gang intervention workers and are working with neighboring law enforcement agencies to better understand gang violence that crosses city lines, he said.

"What we're trying to do is get people to cool off, to take a breather," he said. "That's really our goal: to get them to stop."

At one point, Arcos said, Hollenbeck saw about 18 shootings over a two-week period. Over the last two weeks, he said, the number dropped to three.

"I'm very grateful for the property crime trend — we'll definitely take that — but the city's violent crime is up 12%," he said. "We're one of the anchors. We need to focus on trying to keep that violent crime reduced."

Deputy Chief Bill Scott, who oversees the LAPD's South Bureau, said the increase in killings in his bureau was most obvious in the department's Southwest Division, which includes neighborhoods such as Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and Exposition Park.

Last year, the division didn't see a homicide until March, Scott said. This year, seven people have been killed. Four of those homicides appear to be gang-related, he said.

To drive property crimes down, Scott said police focus on suspects linked to a list of offenses. Many offenders who commit such crimes often strike more than once, he said, so arresting one person can have a significant effect on overall crime in a neighborhood.

Although crime numbers tend to fluctuate and it's still early in the year, Scott said he believes police "have to keep that sense of urgency."

"When we start out in a hole, it sets the tone for what's going to come," he said. "We want to start off the year on a good tone."

kate.mather@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemather

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 09, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Violent crime in L.A. is up 12.7% - Killings surge 27.5%, but overall offenses are up only slightly so far this year. LAPD is stepping up the fight." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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