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LAPD struggles with spike in violent crime, shootings

Overall, the LAPD reported a 27% spike in violent crime and a 12% rise in property crime

Los Angeles police are struggling to combat an increase in crime across the city this year, including a sharp spike in the number of people shot.

Officials said Tuesday that shootings recorded by police are up 31%, amounting to 54 additional victims this year.

Overall, the LAPD reported a 27% spike in violent crime and a 12% rise in property crime through March 21 compared to the same period last year.

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said crime levels are running at roughly the same as 2012 and that the increases are spread out across a variety of neighborhoods.

“So we are moving backward from ‘14 and obviously we're taking steps to address that crime is up in every one of the bureaus,” Beck said.

Police detected the trend this year and have been taking steps to add more officers into troubled areas. One strategy has been deploying officers from the elite Metropolitan Division into neighborhoods that have seen a spike in gang-related violence.

The department is also expanding gang intervention programs, in which police work with young people to steer them away from criminal activity. Police believe gang-related assaults are behind the increase of shooting victims.

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

The one bright spot in the crime statistics are homicides, which are down slightly (2%) compared to 2014, even though shootings are up.

It’s difficult to know how much of the new statistics are driven by changes in the way the LAPD classifies crime.

Aggravated assaults saw the largest spike — up more than 36% compared to last year. Beck has in the past attributed the rise to how LAPD classifies those crimes and an increase in domestic violence.

The classification change came after a Times investigation last year found the department significantly understated the city's true level of crime when it misclassified nearly 1,200 serious violent crimes as low-level offenses during a 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.

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.

The city has recorded more than 2,000 additional property crimes, including a 26% jump in burglary so far this year. Also, incidents of theft from vehicles and motor vehicle theft are both up 17% this year, LAPD figures show. Other thefts are down 1% so far this year compared to last.

Beck said it is too early in 2015 to determine exactly what is causing the increase in property crimes.

Last year was the first time since 2003 that violent crime rose in the city, increasing 14% from 2013. But crime overall was down in 2014, thanks to a drop in property crime.

City officials announced a set of measures in January, including a domestic violence prevention program. They are also expanding the city's Domestic Abuse Response Teams to all 21 LAPD divisions.

In addition, the LAPD is using 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.

Twitter: @LAcrimes @bposton

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