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Editorial: Good news on L.A.'s crime rate is overcome by a stunning jump in homicides

LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks at a lectern with people behind him.
LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore, discusses the 2020 crime increase in October. Moore and Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday announced crime numbers for the entire year.
(Los Angeles Times)

The 9% drop in crime in the city of Los Angeles last year is a non-headline for two reasons. First, so much of the city shut down for so much of the year that there were fewer potential victims in harm’s way, fewer would-be perpetrators looking for trouble, fewer empty houses during the workday to be burglarized, fewer people at ATMs to rob.

And second, the otherwise good news is overcome by the stunning jump in homicides. More people were shot to death in L.A. than in any other year in the last decade.

That too may be a result of a disastrous 2020, in which the breakdown of regular social structures, of life as usual, unleashed anxieties and cruelty that are otherwise kept at bay. After all, the surge wasn’t confined to Los Angeles. Homicides were up in cities around the nation, from Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago to Milwaukee to Seattle and on and on.

Unfortunately, though, much of the L.A. homicide story is all too familiar. Killings were concentrated in South Los Angeles, and more than half were gang-related. Los Angeles residents who live in other parts of town were generally free of violent crime, but those living in the same areas that have been plagued by crime for years were subjected to further trauma.

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More than the homicides, though, public attention in 2020 focused on assaults and killings by officers, disproportionately inflicted on Black people and, to a lesser extent, on Latinos. In Los Angeles (and in most other cities as well), the same communities victimized by crime are the ones brutalized by police — who are there, of course, in response to the crime. That story is likewise not a new one.

At their news conference Monday to discuss the crime statistics, Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore emphasized the city’s programs to improve community-police relations and tamp down gang violence in South L.A. and those other parts of the city struggling with the most homicides and the most troubled history with police. Services like the mayor’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development office and the Community Safety Partnership are steps in the right direction.

Much of the path forward, though, remains unclear. Garcetti noted efforts to “prune the tree” of police services to assign, for example, mental health workers to jobs more suitable for them than for armed cops. That’s a great idea, but it’s not self-effectuating. It won’t, without extensive police retraining and higher standards of conduct and accountability, eliminate unnecessarily fatal police encounters. Nor will it, by itself, stop the violent crime that continues to plague a large swath of Los Angeles, and other cities besides.


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