Crime up across board in LA; homicides, rapes rise 9 percent

A number of factors are driving this year's overall uptick, including a spike in gang violence

By Amanda Lee Myers
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Although crimes including murder and rape are up across the board in Los Angeles, the city is still far less violent than it has been in the past, city leaders said Wednesday as they released citywide statistics for 2015.

Homicides and rapes each jumped by 9 percent in the nation's second-largest city last year compared with 2014, while robberies went up by 13 percent, according to statistics released by the Los Angeles Police Department. Violent crime overall increased by 20 percent, and car theft went up by 17 percent.

The increase in Los Angeles crime comes as police departments across the country, including in New York and Chicago, are scrambling to confront rising bloodshed after years of plummeting crime numbers. Police officials and experts say the increases could reflect deepening distrust of police that leads people to settle disputes themselves, officers who are afraid of being second-guessed and court rulings that make it easier than ever to own a gun. Tighter budgets that result in cuts to law-enforcement agencies could also play a role, they say.

At a Wednesday news conference in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and police Chief Charlie Beck emphasized the big picture. Viewed in greater historical context, the department says crime levels are still among the lowest Los Angeles has seen in the past 50 years and still far below where they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

For instance, overall violent crime in 2015 was down by 23 percent compared with 2005. While 283 people were murdered last year — up from 260 the year before — that figure is still far below the 489 people killed in 2005. In 1992, when murders peaked in Los Angeles during the crack cocaine epidemic, 1,092 people were killed.

"We have numbers in this past year that two or three years ago, let alone decades ago, we would be jumping for joy to see," Garcetti said.

He praised the city's efforts to drive down the crime statistics earlier this year, when the increases were even more dramatic. For instance, violent crime was up 36 percent in the first quarter of 2015, a figure that dropped to 20 percent by the end of the year.

"The 60-year trend is still to me is still an incredibly good one," Garcetti said. "The one-year trend is a troubling one, and the six-month one gives me great hope."

A number of factors are driving this year's overall uptick, including a spike in gang violence over the summer that the department said could possibly be attributed to a number of gang members being released from prison. Of the 283 murders in 2015, Beck said 165 are considered gang-related. That's 58 percent.

Overall gang crime jumped by 15 percent in 2015, the first increase in gang crime in Los Angeles in eight years, Beck said. "Gang crime is truly what steals the youth of Los Angeles," Beck said.

Police are working to address the increases in a number of ways, including deploying hundreds of elite officers to crime hot spots, increasing the number of officers walking the streets versus patrolling in cars, and creating a community relationship division dedicated to building the public's trust in police officers.

The department also has stepped up programs targeting gangs and domestic violence.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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