Crime Edges Up, Led by 10% Jump in Killings

Times Staff Writer

Homicides increased by 10% in Los Angeles in 2002, while total felony crimes edged up by 1.8%, according to an annual tally released Tuesday by the LAPD.

There were 659 killings in Los Angeles as of late Tuesday afternoon, up from 596 in 2001. Homicides in the remainder of Los Angeles County also increased, rising by 6.5% in 2002 to a total of 346, according to the Sheriff's Department.

The 2002 numbers place Los Angeles in the company of a few other large American cities where killings are on the increase.

In L.A. and Miami, for example, homicides have been rising at about the same pace, while killings in Washington, D.C., and Oakland have been increasing even faster than in L.A. Washington's rate of increase in 2002 was 14%, and Oakland's was a startling 30%.

Many other cities, though, have seen their homicide numbers remain virtually level, or decline. Chicago, for example, saw a 3% decrease in homicides, while San Diego, Denver, Cincinnati and Boston saw little change. A few cities posted significant drops. New York, for example, saw its homicides drop by 11% in 2002.

Although a single category of crime -- homicide -- has drawn national attention to Los Angeles recently, the city has seen very little change in most other types of felonies.

Assaults in L.A. were up 1% from the previous year to a total of 18,984; robberies were up less than 1%; and burglaries decreased very slightly. Besides homicide, one other type of felony crime showed a significant increase in 2002: auto theft. About 8% more cars were stolen in the city than in 2001.

Overall, L.A.'s 2002 crime statistics put the city at the leading edge of a national trend: Crime has been edging up by about 1.3% nationally, according to a midyear crime report released by the FBI. Homicides nationally had increased by 2.3% as of July, according to that report.

Against this backdrop, the climb in Los Angeles is not surprising, said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University whose research is used by the U.S. Justice Department.

Los Angeles was one of the cities that led a national crime drop in the early 1990s, he said. Now it is among those leading the rise.

"The bigger cities are the ones who reached their bottom the soonest, and the bigger cities tend to be the ones rebounding first," Fox said.

He said the trend started about three years ago, when crime in Los Angeles and across the country hit historic lows. The recent increase in homicides in Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention and elevated public concern about crime. But a much bigger jump in the city's homicide rate occurred from 1999 to 2000.

Homicides that year leaped by 30% in Los Angeles. The increase got less media coverage than the recent, smaller jump, but it nonetheless signaled an abrupt end to what had been a long-standing drop in violent crime. That same year, homicides in New York City also increased, although not as steeply.

What was happening in both places, Fox said, was a rebound from rock-bottom levels of crime. Both Los Angeles and New York had seen a 60% decrease in the number of homicides committed annually earlier in the 1990s. By the end of that decade, the figures simply couldn't go any lower, he said, adding: "What goes down generally comes back up."

Since that jump in 2000, homicides have continued to rise in Los Angeles, but more slowly, and the trend seemed to lose further steam as 2002 wound down.

Most of the 2002 increase in L.A. homicides was because of a spike early in the year. Homicides in the city peaked in March, when 67 people were killed citywide. But instead of continuing to rise through the hot summer months, as is often the case in Los Angeles, the homicide trend leveled off.

As a result -- despite a brief upturn in November -- there were actually fewer homicides in Los Angeles in the last six months of 2002 than in the last six months of 2001.

Gang homicides as a percentage of total homicides also decreased slightly overall in 2002 citywide, falling to 53% last year from 60% in 2001.

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