Editorial

What's behind the L.A. crime surge?

The decline in Los Angeles' crime rate over the last seven years makes the enormous increase during the first half of 2015 — 26.3% more aggravated assaults than in 2008, 20.6% more total violent crimes, 18.5% more shooting victims — even more startling than it might otherwise be. Increases over last year's very low numbers are disturbing. Clearly something is amiss.

The obvious question: What happened? Perhaps there was an outbreak of gang crime, which had for years been on the decline, or an epidemic of domestic violence. Or perhaps it was the result of the resurgent nationwide tension between police and the communities — especially African American communities — that they serve. Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck cited those issues as well as Proposition 47 — the ballot measure adopted by voters in November that turned six types of felonies into misdemeanors — as possible contributing factors.

It may indeed be the case that because police have chosen not to arrest people as often as before for those six crimes, the vast majority of which are drug offenses, there are more people living on the streets and committing property crimes to feed their habits. But it's hard to see the connection between the non-arrest of drug users and the uptick in domestic violence, rape and other violent crimes.

Asked at a news briefing Wednesday whether he believed Proposition 47 was a mistake, Garcetti answered only by saying that funding for treatment and other programs — which, under the ballot measure, is to be distributed to local governments only after a year's time — ought to be in place before penalty reductions.

In a perfect world that might well be the case. But as the state legislative analyst noted in February, the reduction of those six felonies offers immediate savings in reduced workload to counties — to prosecutors, to public defenders, to jailers. That's money that could be spent on treatment and other programs right away.

Garcetti's neighbors up the street, in the county Hall of Administration, also did a notoriously poor job of making use of new funding for treatment and anti-recidivism programs when it became available under a previous law change, AB 109's public safety realignment in 2011. They only now have begun readjusting their workload and budget to expand such programs. It would be a shame — in every sense of the word — if the increase in crime were due in part to inaction at the county level and poor coordination between the county and the city.

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