After a 12-year decline, crime in L.A. surges in first half of 2015
Crime surged across Los Angeles in the first six months of this year despite a campaign by the Los Angeles Police Department to place more officers on the streets and target certain types of offenses.
Los Angeles recorded a 12.7% increase in overall crime, ending more than a decade of declines and raising concerns about what more officials can do to reverse the trend.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck attributed the increases to several possible factors, including gang violence, rising homelessness and a November ballot measure that downgraded many theft and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
“This is bad news,” Garcetti said Wednesday as the city released the latest LAPD crime numbers. “Let me be clear: Any uptick in crime is unacceptable.”
The surge in crime was felt across the city. Violent offenses rose 20.6%, propelled by increases in aggravated assaults and robberies. Property crime rose 10.9%, driven by across-the-board increases in burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts. Overall, crime was up 12.7%.
The sharpest increases occurred in the LAPD’s Central Division, which includes parts of downtown, Chinatown and skid row. Violent crime there has risen 67%, according to a Times analysis of LAPD data through June 27. Property crime increased 26%.
Beck and Garcetti emphasized they had seen some progress in recent months — crime is still up, but not as much as it was during the first three months of the year.
Several new initiatives — including the deployment of Metropolitan Division officers to crime hot spots and strengthening gang outreach efforts — appear to be having an effect, they said. They said they hoped continued expansion of the programs would help drive down the numbers.
“This is what keeps me awake at night,” Beck said. “I do take this personally. I’ve spent 40 years of my life trying to keep this city safe, and even though it is safer than in all those 40 years, I still worry about this.”
Crime in Los Angeles has dropped steadily since 2003, the first full year former Chief William J. Bratton — who pioneered data-driven policing — led the LAPD.
But the uptick, particularly in violent crimes, has drawn significant attention in recent months. Public safety was a keystone of Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, as well as this year’s budget.
John Eterno, criminology professor at Molloy College in Long Island, N.Y., said big-city mayors such as Garcetti are under tremendous pressure to report declining crime on their watch.
“He clearly has a political hot potato to deal with,” said Eterno, a retired New York City police captain.
Neighborhood council leaders in the areas most affected by the increased crime said many residents are alarmed.
Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said local residents have complained about increased street attacks. Serious assaults in the LAPD’s Central Division, which covers part of downtown, are up more than 80% so far this year compared to the same period in 2014, department data show.
“Many people are just concerned because it doesn’t seem to be as safe as it was a year ago,” Berman said.
Beck said the city’s rising homeless population contributed to the increase. He said most of the crime in the LAPD’s Central Division could be attributed to “homeless-on-homeless” incidents.
Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said he hears daily reports from neighbors about home burglaries, car break-ins and automobile thefts. In West Los Angeles, property crime increased more than 21%.
“It’s a major problem,” Handal said. “The city really needs to refocus its energy on this. These property crimes are all quality-of-life crimes that affect us every day.”
Part of that property crime increase, Garcetti said, may be linked to Proposition 47, the ballot measure that downgraded felony drug possession and thefts and resulted in the release of about 3,700 inmates from state prison.
Peter Moskos, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it was too soon to say whether Proposition 47 was behind the increase in property crimes. Even if the initiative has contributed to the rise in property crimes, he said, the result may be an acceptable trade-off for taking a less strict approach toward relatively minor crimes.
“If there is huge money saved in incarceration, I think we can take an increase in property crimes,” Moskos said.
Also fueling the crime trend is increased gang activity, Beck said. Department statistics showed gang-related crimes rose 18.3%. The number of people shot in gang-related incidents climbed to 409 from 307 last year, a 33.2% increase.
Except for homicide — which was down about 6.7% — all categories of violent crimes and property crimes increased in the first six months of the year.
Aggravated assaults saw the largest spike — up more than 26% compared to the same period in 2014. Following a Times investigation last year, the LAPD improved how it classified serious assaults, which officials said has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported more modest increases, with a 4.1% rise in violent crime and a 6.3% increase in property crime through July 6.
Beck and Garcetti emphasized that even with the increase, Los Angeles was a safe city that had made significant strides since the crime waves of the 1980s and 1990s. But, Beck acknowledged, when the numbers came in from the first three months of the year, “it was obvious that dramatic action was necessary.”
Garcetti poured more funding into gang outreach efforts, allocating an extra $5.5 million for the city’s Gang Reduction & Youth Development program. He directed the expansion of Domestic Abuse Response Teams, groups of civilian workers who accompany police officers on domestic violence calls.
Perhaps the most controversial effort to quell rising crime was the decision to double the size of the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division, a squad of officers with a reputation for hard-charging tactics. Beck emphasized that the officers would be deployed to crime hot spots, not with the goal of making more arrests, but to signal that the LAPD was nearby and ready to respond.
Garcetti said 125 officers had been added to Metro with the remaining 75 expected to join by September. When asked what effect the expanded unit has had on crime numbers, Beck noted that the increase in crime had slowed but said it was difficult to attribute that to one action.
Capt. Cory Palka, who heads the LAPD’s 77th Street Division in South Los Angeles, said Metro officers have helped reduce retaliation shootings that take place in gang-ridden neighborhoods. When a shooting occurs, Palka said, he is able to deploy the officers to potential trouble spots, where their presence can reduce the chances of more gunfire.
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