In a dramatic statistical turnaround, the Los Angeles Police Department reported Monday that a new wave of killings in South-Central Los Angeles in September helped produce a 12.3% citywide increase in gang-related homicides in the first nine months of this year.
The latest figures showed 21 gang-related killings in the South-Central area during September, an increase of almost 50% over the same month in 1987.
In addition to the 21 killings, there were 10 other homicides during August and July that were not classified as gang-related until September, boosting the city’s gang fatalities to 174 for the year, compared to 155 for last year.
The latest statistics--conflicting with a report last month that gang killings were down--caused LAPD officials to express both dismay at the continuing violence in the South-Central area and concern about the criteria the department has used to identify gang killings.
As of now, the LAPD has considered murders to be gang related if either the victim or the suspect in the murder was identified as a gang member. The actual motive for any such killing has not been a statistical consideration.
Faced with the dramatic statistical swing in the homicide rate, however, LAPD spokesman Cmdr. William Booth said Monday that the department is reconsidering its criteria in measuring the number of gang killings. He said LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates will probably assess the issue next week.
“We’re still using the old criteria, and it’s not flexible enough,” Booth said. “We have a whole bunch of
cases where gang affiliation isn’t really relevant to the homicide, but it’s listed as a gang killing.
“One case that comes to mind was a couple of brothers fighting over a bicycle. In another case, it was a brother and sister in a domestic quarrel of some kind.”
Booth, who had expressed optimism last month when the statistics indicated that gang killings were down in South-Central, said he was disappointed by September’s reversal.
“We don’t feel good about it,” he said. “I’m not happy at all. Obviously, this is going to cause our operational people to take a close look at our deployment in South-Central in the near future.”
While Booth expressed unhappiness with the South-Central statistics, he said the “most meaningful” crime statistics for September showed a continuing drop in the city’s overall murder rate.
“The total number of homicides in Los Angeles was down for the year from 625 in 1987 to 548 so far this year,” Booth said. “If that continues, we will have the lowest murder total in a decade.”
Booth also said the overall homicide totals in South-Central have also continued to decline for the year, from 321 for the first nine months of 1987 to 255 through September of 1988--a 20% drop.
The latest percentage increase in gang fatalities reported by the LAPD roughly matches the statistics of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department through September. The sheriff’s statistics showed 71 gang-related homicides through September, compared to 60 during the first nine months of 1987.