In 2016 violent crime was up for the third straight year in Los Angeles. But the customary press conference on year-end crime stats held by the Mayor's Office in the early months of each new year is nowhere to be found.
Critics allege that Mayor Eric Garcetti, who's up for re-election March 7, is hiding from the issue because it won't do him much good at the polls. City officials say scheduling conflicts have prevented him from appearing with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to discuss the statistics.
LAPD's year-end numbers show a 10.2 percent increase in violent crime compared with 2015. Murder was up nearly 4 percent; robbery increased 14 percent; aggravated assault saw a 9.5 percent boost. If you're looking for answers, however, you'll have to look beyond City Hall.
LAPD public information director Josh Rubenstein said via email that no press conference to discuss the final 2016 numbers has been slated. "From what I understand, this has been a schedule coordination issue," he said.
Garcetti campaign spokesman Yusef Robb said the press conference is a nonissue because the mayor is available to speak about the stats at public appearances that take place just about every day of the week.
"This is a cockamamie campaign conspiracy theory from our opponents," he said in an emailed statement. "The stats have been widely reported in the media precisely because the [Garcetti] administration has always posted them online and proactively pushed them out to the press and the public. Mayor Garcetti puts himself in front of reporters and L.A. residents to answer questions on crime stats and anything people want to ask him about on a near-daily basis."
Long-shot mayoral challenger Mitchell Schwartz, a public affairs consultant, acknowledges that the big picture behind crime stats can be difficult to decipher. (San Diego, the state's second-largest city, has seen a three-year increase in murders). But he also argues that a mayor's top priority is public safety, and he notes that the biggest slice of the city's budget covers police and fire resources.
"Most cities have not gotten the increase we have," he says. "But the mayor is hiding out. It's the No. 1 job of the mayor, it's the No. 1 part of our budget, and he's responsible for hiring the chief. If he would manage the city's budget better, we would have more cops."
Schwartz is proposing an additional 2,500 more sworn officers for the LAPD. The department is staffed with about 9,850 cops, according to the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL). The figure has long been a sore spot for the union, which represents rank-and-file officers, because it's so much lower than New York's 34,500 officers.
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L.A.'s crime increase comes on the heels of a record stretch of low crime, however. And cities across the country have grappled with spikes in crime. The murder rate in America's big cities was up in 2016, a fact that would suggest action at City Hall or even at the state capital might have little impact. Something larger could be brewing.
Garcetti and Beck have previously pointed the finger at the city's booming homeless population and at Proposition 47, a measure approved by state voters in 2014 that downgraded some low-level drug and property charges from felonies to misdemeanors.
LAPPL board secretary Robert Harris said the union isn't blaming Garcetti for the city's crime woes. But, he said, the problem of rising lawlessness needs to be addressed by unleashing more overtime, hiring more cops and hiring more civilians to do desk jobs being done by sworn personnel.
"Crime is up, and our staffing and patrol is down," he says. "What are we going to do to fix it?"