Violent crime rises in L.A.; officials announce plans to tackle problem

Violent crime increases in L.A. for first time since 2003

The Los Angeles Police Department released crime statistics Monday showing that violent crime rose last year for the first time since 2003.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was disappointed to report the increase on his watch, but emphasized that the city’s level of violence remained at historically low levels.

“I’m the mayor of the city and public safety is my number one 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.”

Department data show violent crime was up 14.3% last year compared to 2013, driven by a spike in aggravated assaults, which increased by 28.3%. Homicides and robberies were up slightly, while the number of rapes climbed nearly 21%.

The figures mean that about 2,360 additional people fell victim to violence in Los Angeles last year over the previous year. Last year’s violent crime totals were also higher than the year-end tally reported in 2012.

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

City officials announced a set of measures Monday to combat the rise in violence.

They include a domestic violence prevention initiative to increase awareness and also an expansion of the city’s Domestic Abuse Response Team to all 21 LAPD divisions. The team is comprised of civilians who assist and advocate for victims of domestic violence.

The LAPD also plans to use a $400,000 federal grant to tackle street 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 decreasing recidivism rates in those areas.

Police Chief Charlie Beck attributed the increase in violent crime to three factors: improvements in how LAPD classified 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 as minor incidents.

Determining how much of the crime increase was due to improvements in record-keeping is difficult, criminal justice experts have said. To do so, reporting errors made in previous years would need to be corrected to ensure that comparisons were accurate.

Department officials have declined to provide 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 stressed they were focused on improving the data quality in the future instead of cleaning up previous 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. “Whether it’s apples to apples or oranges to oranges ... violent crime is up. I don’t want to overstate it and say violent crime is up just because we were more correctly classifying it and suddenly crime increased, but it did increase in some areas.”

Following The Times investigation, police officials instituted reforms to improve the accuracy of the city's crime statistics, including additional training and a tightening of department procedures for classifying crimes, especially assaults.

To carry out the reforms, 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 with a course on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines.

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