L.A. crime hits highest level since 2009 amid more gang violence and homelessness

Los Angeles officials on Wednesday attributed last year's crime jump to increased gang activity and homelessness, among other things. 

With every crime category increasing last year in the city, total crime stood at its highest point since 2009, according to data released by Los Angeles Police Department

Violent crime was up 20.2% last year compared with 2014, and property crime rose 10.7% during the same span, LAPD figures show.

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Standing in front of a banner showing crime trends since the 1950s, Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that the city's crime rate remains lower than in many decades.

But the short-term trends were less favorable. Police reported 283 homicides last year, up 8.8% from 2014. Rapes were up 9.1% and robberies rose 12.5%; the biggest change in violent crime came in aggravated assaults, which climbed 27.8%. 

Garcetti said he was confident that LAPD strategies launched last year would help curb crime this year.

Those initiatives include the ramping up of the LAPD's elite Metropolitan Division, strengthening gang outreach efforts and an expansion of domestic violence awareness teams throughout the city.

He pointed to numbers showing that the violent crime increase peaked at more than 30% earlier in the year and was reduced through the department's efforts.

"That gives me a lot of hope of the work that was done," Garcetti said. 

Beck said gang-related offenses were up for the first time in eight years. Nearly 60% of homicides were gang-related, department data show.

A portion of the increase in serious assaults was the result of improvements in how the department classifies those offenses, police said. LAPD officials launched reforms after a 2014 Times investigation found widespread errors in how assaults were classified. 

To stem rising crime last year, Beck decided to double the size of the LAPD's Metropolitan Division, an elite squad of officers who were deployed to crime hot spots around the city. 

The unit took 236 guns off the streets from July to mid-December, nearly three times as many as the first half of the year, police said. And felony arrests by Metro officers tripled during that time, he said.

Beck said the Metro expansion showed crime-reduction results in the fourth quarter of last year, and he expects that to continue now that the unit is fully staffed.

"I have faith in having platoons throughout the city that have dedicated responsibilities to respond to crime spikes. I hold them to task and I expect them to make a difference. It's a huge investment for the city, but I think it's the right kind of investment," Beck said.

Garcetti allocated an extra $5.5 million for the city's Gang Reduction & Youth Development program last year. He also directed the expansion of Domestic Abuse Response Teams, groups of civilian workers who accompany police officers on domestic violence calls.

Property offenses also fueled the overall crime increase, including burglary (5.1%), theft (10.7%) and motor vehicle thefts (17.1%).

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Some LAPD officials have attributed the property crime increase to Proposition 47, the state ballot measure passed in November 2014 that downgraded drug possession and minor thefts to misdemeanors.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reported smaller increases in 2015, with violent crime rising 5.2% and property crime up 7.2% compared with a year earlier.

All 21 LAPD divisions reported crime increases last year. LAPD's Central Division — which includes parts of downtown, skid row and Chinatown — led the city in violent and property crime increases.

The rise in downtown crime has forced some longtime residents to move out of the area, said Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.

"It pains me to see this happening," Berman said. "It’s getting worse. I hear more stories about people who have been attacked or who have had their homes broken into."

LAPD’s Central Division is understaffed to address the rampant drug dealing and homelessness that plague downtown, Berman said. Still, she remains hopeful police can turn it around.

"Downtown is experiencing some growing pains right now, but I truly believe we will solve these problems. Downtown is going to be the heart of Los Angeles." 


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