Why Is Crime Increasing in Los Angeles?
UPDATE at 5:10 p.m., Wednesday, July 8, 2015: A UCLA professor has a pretty interesting theory that could explain why crime is on the uptick. See it at the bottom.
Crime is on the rise in Los Angeles again.
After a 2014 that was the 12th straight year of declining and historically low crime, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, 2015 is now looking at a second quarter of climbing rates.
Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck today unveiled the city's midyear crime stats, and they aren't pretty:
Major crime, a category that includes everything from murder to car theft, is up 12.7 percent compared with the same time frame last year. Violent crime taken separately is up 20 percent. Property crime has increased by 10 percent.
Aggravated assault led the numbers with a 26 percent boost since the first half of last year. Beck said domestic violence helped to drive that figure upward. Robbery is up 16.6 percent. Rape increased about 8 percent.
Homicide is down 6.7 percent.
The mayor and Beck struggled to explain the inexplicable. The chief said we cannot rule out the effects of Proposition 47, which voters approved in November.
The legislation automatically knocks small-time drug crime down to a misdemeanor, meaning that many suspects are avoiding jail time. "[Proposition] 47 cannot be taken out of the equation," Beck told reporters today.
However, he cautioned that "we're not there yet" in terms of being able to measure the impact of such things. Beck noted that the crime spike we're seeing now started late last year, before Proposition 47 went into effect.
"You see police chiefs who immediately go to legislation and say that's the causation, that immediately go to the economy and say that's the causation," he said. "It's a number of things."
Garcetti defended the liberal ideology behind 47 — that it's better for all of us not to have to pay for productive members of society to be behind bars for petty things like putting substances in their bodies — but he admitted that small-time drug offenders "know they're not going to prison" now.
"Because it's a revolving door, we do believe .... that may be fueling part of" the increase, he said.
Beck also singled out L.A.'s major increase in people living on the streets. He pointed to the stats in LAPD's Central Bureau, which includes Skid Row, downtown and other core neighborhoods. Major crime there is up about 18 percent.
Homelessness, he said, "drives almost all the crime" in the bureau's downtown Central Division.
While gang-related homicides were down 9 percent, gang crime was up about 18 percent, according to LAPD data. And that was another key factor in the city's spike in lawlessness. Beck:
We will most likely suffer about 130 gang homicides this year. ... Los Angeles is one of the core cities, Los Angeles and Chicago, that creates street gangs. And street gangs become exported from Los Angeles ... all over the nation. You can find Crip factions, Blood factions, 18 Street, MS, worldwide, and all those gangs originated in the confines of this city.
When it comes to these crews, "We're looked at as not only the source of gang crime but also as the solution," the chief said.
Garcetti emphasized intervention, including his Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development and its Summer Night Lights evening basketball sessions.
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The truth is no one really knows why crime goes up or down.
New York, which claims, as does L.A., to be the nation's safest big city, has seen a spike in homicides. Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and other American big cities have seen crimes rise, all at about the same time.
If there's something happening coast-to-coast here, it would take Proposition 47 and local factors, including the rise in L.A. homeless and how we police our streets, out of the causation game.
One of the most interesting explanations about crime trends — particularly as applied to the historic decline in national lawlessness since the 1990s — says that the widespread availability of legal abortion starting in the 1970s produced a generation of well-reared, wanted children who were less likely to end up in handcuffs. That, too, has been debated.
Some experts have also credited the rise of so-called "broken windows" policing since the 1990s for the reduction in crime. Bill Bratton, LAPD chief from 2002 to 2009, was a chief proponent of this theory, which holds that if the small-time disintegration of a neighborhood (broken windows, graffiti, loitering) is ignored, larger crimes will thrive.
It could be interesting to note here that reports of graffiti in Los Angeles are also on the increase. But also note that Bratton is now the top cop again in New York, where murders and shootings have been on the rise.
Tough-on-crime legislation, particularly in California, is loosening up. State prisons have been overcrowded and under a court order to shrink their populations. Legislators have targeted everything from petty drug crime to traffic tickets as being counterproductive.
The Obama administration, citing the preponderance of black men behind bars, has loosened sentencing guidelines for more minor drug crimes.
Garcetti tried to put the best face on today's stats: "This is still a championship team that is winning the pennant. But we're winning it maybe by a few less games."
The increases we're seeing, the mayor and the chief emphasized, are based on historic low numbers. "We're on track to have the lowest homicide rate the city's had in modern history."
Garcetti repeated the recycled notion that L.A. is "safer than at any point since the 1950s."
This is no riot-era Los Angeles. But as L.A. Weekly has reported before, it's hard to believe that L.A. today, with nearly 4 million people and a handful of transnational gangs, is as safe as it was during the days of Mayberry.
UPDATE at 5:10 p.m., Wednesday, July 8, 2015: Jorja Leap, director of UCLA's Health and Social Justice Partnership, says blaming the homeless for the increase is "shallow and uninformed. ... We're blaming the victims."
She argued that homeless people aren't usually associated with major crimes such as murders and car theft.
The professor did have an intriguing theory, however, that could explain why some crimes have increased in many big cities nationwide, particularly in L.A., New York and St. Louis.
All are cities rocked by police killings of unarmed black men. In L.A. the cause célèbre is the case of Ezell Ford, who was fatally shot by police in South L.A. last summer.
Leap says officers are under intense pressure to watch what they do. And she notes that more and more people are using smartphones to film what cops do:
I think there has been ... a kind of a cooling effect because of the scrutiny of the LAPD. I think law enforcement is under the microscope with Ezell Ford and what's been happening nationally. They are weighing their behavior and interventions carefully. No one wants to be the next officer who made the wrong call. We would be idiots if we didn't consider the fact that all of this is having an impact on the actions and interventions of law enforcement. Who's got their smartphone out? Who's filming? Who's watching?
She said cops just might be "skittish" about doing their jobs these days.
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