In the latest of a series of widely fluctuating monthly tallies of gang violence, the Los Angeles Police Department has released statistics that show gang-related homicides rose throughout the city by 200% in October compared to the same month in 1987.
The monthly statistics, which already have prompted the Police Department to re-evaluate its system of counting gang crimes, were discounted Thursday by top department officials as virtually meaningless.
For the year, however, gang-related homicides have increased by 24.7%, with 207 killings compared to 166 through October, 1987. This year’s total already tops a record total of 205 for all of last year.
While terming the department’s annual statistics a valid measure of the crime problem, police spokesman William Booth said a backlog of unclassified gang killings in July and August has “skewed” the monthly figures for September and October and will probably distort the gang figures for November as well.
Change in Classification
After earlier monthly swings in both August and September, the department reassessed its statistical approach to collecting gang crime statistics and is gradually shifting to an emphasis on “gang-motivated” crimes, as opposed to those classified as “gang-related.”
Gang-related crimes, by Police Department definition, are those in which either the victim or the suspect is a gang member. To be regarded as gang-motivated, a crime must occur directly because of a person’s gang membership.
In its most recent statistics, the department counted 33 gang-related killings in Los Angeles during October. Of those, 16 were actually committed during the month and 17 others that occurred earlier were added to the monthly total after being classified as gang-related.
The total of 33 gang-related killings, compared to 11 throughout the city during the month of October, 1987, represents an increase of 200%. During the same time, gang-related killings in South-Central Los Angeles increased from eight in October, 1987, to 21.
Using the department’s gang-motivated category, meanwhile, there were 20 homicides in October. A dozen of those were in the South-Central area. Because that set of statistics has been tracked only in the last year, no earlier comparable figures were available.
Total Most Important
Booth, pledging that the department is working to avoid any similar statistical problems in the future, stressed Wednesday that the monthly gang figures are less important than the annual homicide totals.
He pointed out that the total of gang-related homicides in South-Central Los Angeles so far in 1988 is 116, an increase of only two over the same period in 1987. He also noted that overall homicides in South-Central are down 17% so far this year, from 351 in 1987 to 291.
Because of the department’s shift to an increased emphasis on gang-motivated crime statistics, a county task force of other local law enforcement agencies has also reconvened to consider a similar switch. Booth said Wednesday that a study group met this week and will report later in the month.
Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said in an interview that he has had some reluctance about approving any change in the way gang statistics are kept, but feels that some improvements are needed.