Los Angeles police have arrested homeless people at a rate that has outpaced the alarming growth of the city’s homeless population, according to a new study by researchers at UCLA.
LAPD's arrests of homeless people have increased by 37 percent from 2011 to 2016, a period of time when the homeless population increased by 21 percent, according to UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project, which uses police arrest data to track how much the agency spends on incarceration by neighborhood.
Danielle Dupuy, the report’s lead author, says its findings indicate “an increase in policing of that population, above and beyond the population itself.”
“What’s important to think about is that also if total arrests are declining and arrests of houseless people is going up, it might indicate resources are being shifted to target that population,” Dupuy says. (The researchers opted for the term “houseless” over homeless in the report.)
Dupuy says the researchers were able to differentiate homeless from non-homeless by the address listed on the LAPD's arrest report — either “transient” or giving the address of an area homeless shelter.
The report also found that during the same five-year period, 2011-16, when arrests in Los Angeles declined 22 percent overall, arrests of homeless people increased 14 percent.
“By 2016,” the report states, “there was one houseless arrest for every two houseless people in the City of Los Angeles. This is 17 times the arrest rate among the total population of the city.”
Part of the goal of the UCLA researchers, says Kelly Lytle-Hernandez, founder of the Million Dollar Hoods project, is to comb through the records and make the specific arrest data available to community advocates working in the arenas of housing and policing. “It’s an evolving story about housing, houselessness and policing here in the city,” says Lytle-Hernandez, who is also director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
Lytle-Hernandez adds: “For me, as someone who has studied trends in policing for the past 20 years, what it tells me is this is a new set of priorities. Intentionally or unintentionally, there’s a new priority system in the LAPD on policing either houseless folks, or public order charges.”
The Million Dollar Hoods project is a collaboration with advocates like the Youth Justice Coalition, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Dignity and Power Now, and Critical Resistance Los Angeles.
The project's report lists the five L.A. ZIP codes with the highest rate of arrests of homeless people from 2011-2016. The top three ZIP codes — 90013, 90014 and 90021 — are east of Grand Street in downtown, an area that covers Pershing Square, the Fashion District and the Arts District. The report states that 18,160 homeless people were arrested in those downtown ZIP codes during the period examined for the study.
Rounding out the top five ZIP codes for homeless arrests by LAPD were Hollywood with 4,829 arrests and Venice with 2,561 arrests.
“They are areas that are rapidly gentrifying,” says Pete White, executive director of the L.A. Community Action Network, a group based on Skid Row; one of its slogans is “housing not handcuffs.”
“The report lays out for all eyes to see that there is an integral relation between gentrification, development and criminalization of the poor and houseless people.”
LAPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the study. Chief Charlie Beck, in a report submitted to the Board of Police Commissioners in August, acknowledged a 49 percent increase in arrests of homeless people in the first half of 2017, which the chief attributed in part to a change in how police reports are coded.
Here’s an excerpt from Chief Beck’s report:
“A total of 1,845 homeless and mentally ill individuals were arrested citywide during [the first two quarters of 2017], which represents a 49 percent increase from the same period last year. This increase does not necessarily represent an increase in actual arrests but is indicative of improved coding of reports. The crimes they were arrested for included aggravated assault, burglary, disorderly conduct, embezzlement, fraud, forgery, larceny, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, vehicle theft, and various other weapons charges. A complete breakdown of these arrests is also included as an attachment.”
The “complete breakdown” Beck refers to indicate that serious and violent crimes such as larceny (450), aggravated assault (320) and homicide (285) are the most frequent causes for the arrest of homeless people in L.A.
The UCLA researchers say the LAPD data they have reviewed thus far tells a different story — and, more importantly, a different category of charged arrests. Lytle-Hernandez says that though she and her team are still compiling data from the arrest records, they have already noticed the emergence of a separate category of crime from the chief's report. “One of the charges we've seen quite a bit is failure to appear, which is an entirely different category of crime,” she says.
White of LA CAN agrees that failure to appear is a commonly seen arrest charge on Skid Row. He also said that simple drug possession is another.
Chief Beck's report to the police commission, which covers data more recent than that in the UCLA report, categorizes the data differently— for example, lumping drug-related arrests into the less specific category of “narcotic drug laws,” and including additional catch-all categories like “non-criminal deten,” “misc other viols,” and, simply, “other.” Lytle-Hernandez says she and her team intend to release more detailed data on homeless arrests at a later date.
City leaders are deciding how to allocate a $1.2 billion bond issue approved by voters in November that is aimed at getting people off the streets permanently. A report by the City Administrative Office in 2015 found that of the $100 million that city agencies spent on costs related to homelessness, the LAPD spent anywhere from $53.6 million to $87.3 million on what the report called “interactions with the homeless, not including costs incurred from patrol officers’ time.”
Ultimately, Los Angeles has the most unsheltered people of any city in the United States, and the city’s homeless population has increased by a staggering 20 percent in the past year, surpassing 34,000. “It’s a problem that we can’t to arrest ourselves out of,” says White.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed data on arrest charges to the recently released Million Dollar Hoods report; however, the numbers regarding that matter were not part of that report and were incorrect.