L.A. officials say they’re working to make 2020 violence an ‘anomaly,’ but relief remains elusive
Los Angeles officials on Monday outlined efforts to interrupt last year’s deadly surge in gun violence, with Mayor Eric Garcetti expressing hope that the intense bloodshed of 2020 would be “an anomaly and not a trend.”
In his first extended comments on last year’s violence and the city’s path out of it, Garcetti noted that reductions in some crime categories — and in violent crime overall — were overshadowed by the fact that nearly 100 additional people were killed compared to the previous year, with 350 homicide victims in total.
“It was a year in which, overall, if you’re an Angeleno, you were less likely to be a victim of crime, and yet more families than we’ve seen in a decade had the worst crime that affected their family: that of losing a loved one,” Garcetti said.
The mayor said his focus now is on weathering the economic fallout of the pandemic — which has gutted city coffers and raised the specter of layoffs in the Los Angeles Police Department — while ensuring public safety for a growing number of residents. He said he wants to return the city to the downward trend in shootings and killings that it had been enjoying for years before the pandemic.
To get there, Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the LAPD has taken a hard look at its responsibilities and capabilities in recent months to prioritize things such as patrol and violent crime investigations, even as the department scales back special deployments and other less critical work.
“We are going to maintain our uniformed presence, our investigative resources, to identify those responsible for gun violence and bring them before the criminal justice system,” Moore said.
Garcetti and Moore said officers are already taking more guns off the streets, and that community policing efforts that are paying dividends are getting new investment. They said jobs and other diversion programs for youths are being protected, and expressed hope that a turnaround in the economy, driven by the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, will help reverse the desperation they believe is at the root of much of the violence.
They also acknowledged that the turnaround they envision is far from realized.
Data from recent weeks show no respite from the gun violence since New Year’s, with homicides up 136% and shootings up more than 260% in the first two weeks of the year, compared to 2020. The latest data, while limited, indicated a continuation of last year’s violence rather than an end to it — and come against a backdrop of other concerns.
Garcetti, Moore and other city officials are contemplating layoffs of hundreds of officers and other deployment cutbacks because of the city’s financial crisis. That follows a $150-million LAPD budget reduction passed by the City Council last summer in response to widespread protests for criminal justice reform.
Both Garcetti and Moore said they hoped the police union will accept concessions to help close the funding shortfall without layoffs — such as a delay on impending salary increases, which other city unions have accepted — but did not suggest a deal was near.
Critics have blasted the summer budget cut and the potential layoffs as wrong-headed, and suggested the increased violence should preclude any additional cuts.
On Monday, Moore agreed it was bad timing for additional cuts. But he and Garcetti dismissed the idea that the cuts were a factor in the surge in violence to date, which they view more as a national phenomenon.
They said they are looking for ways to reduce the presence of armed officers at calls involving people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction — something that activists and protesters have called for — without sacrificing public safety. They also praised efforts to push through additional reforms that they said will ensure increased equity in policing and lead to more community cooperation with investigators.
Moore said much of the violence in the last year has been gang-related, and a reduction in killings and shootings will come only with the assistance and collaboration of community members willing to join in the calls for peace. He said police especially want to work with residents to identify illegal channels through which guns are entering the city.
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