Police, community take action as crime rises in LA
Murders are up 12 percent this year and shooting victims have increased 20 percent
By Amanda Lee Myers
LOS ANGELES — Eduardo Rebolledo had just gotten into his pickup truck after work, eager to head home to his two children when a gang dispute erupted 30 yards behind him on a Los Angeles street. The 38-year-old ducked right into the path of a bullet that hit him in the head, killing him instantly.
"He was completely innocent. The guy's never even had a parking ticket," said Detective Dave Peteque with the Los Angeles Police Department. "He's just a working Joe, a family man trying to support his kids."
In a split second, Rebolledo joined the growing list of victims in the nation's second-largest city, where murders are up 12 percent this year and shooting victims have increased 20 percent. The city is also on the cusp of recording its 1,000th shooting victim of the year.
After an especially violent weekend in late September, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed his frustration about the bloodshed, particularly among gangs. "This is not Dodge City," Beck said, referring to 19 shootings in one weekend, 13 of which were gang-related.
The increases come as redevelopment of the city's downtown and nearby neighborhoods has attracted trendy new bars and restaurants, thousands of new residents and megaprojects that include a $1 billion mixed-use hotel tower that will be the tallest in the West.
In response to the rising numbers, the LAPD has deployed hundreds of elite officers to crime hot spots, increased the number of officers walking the streets versus patrolling in cars, and created a community relationship division dedicated to building the public's trust in police officers.
But Beck said his department can't solve the problem alone.
"A lot of it is public will," he said. "A will of everyone in the city of Los Angeles to say, 'Enough is enough.'"
Members of the community say they stepped up their own efforts when the crime numbers started going up.
Rebolledo's death, for instance, inspired a "peace movement" in the neighborhood where he was killed, said Michelle Miranda, founder of Alliance for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit that provides services to disadvantaged young people, including gang intervention.
Young people involved with Miranda's organization decided to hold a peace march on a recent Saturday in response to Rebolledo's death. More than 250 people took to the streets wearing white shirts, carrying signs that included: "We protest our right to live in peace."
"These are young people that know drugs in the community and gang activity, and they're tired of it," Miranda said.
Miranda said the same youths who organized the march are working on more plans to continue the peace movement.
At Good News Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, the Rev. Winford Bell began a program through his nonprofit group to train members of the community how to counsel family and friends of people who've been murdered.
The idea for the so-called "life comforters" is to provide a safe outlet to vent anger and sorrow, and wherever possible, attempt to prevent retaliatory violence common among gangs.
"Don't get me wrong, hardcore gang members are not going to hear me. Them we can't do nothing with," Bell said. "The other ones who aren't so hard, who aren't dedicated to being gang members ... If they come, we can do a lot of work."
Los Angeles is among a number of major cities across the U.S. seeing rises in violent crime this year, including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Cleveland and Houston. Other California cities also have seen increases, including Sacramento, Oakland and Long Beach.
Though the numbers are up, those cities are far safer than they were in the early 1990s during the crack cocaine epidemic. In Los Angeles, for example, murders peaked in 1992 at 1,092 people killed.
So far this year, there have been 251 homicides, compared to 225 during the same time period last year.
Still, the LAPD is taking this year's uptick seriously.
"We're not panicking," said Capt. Jeff Bert, commanding officer of the department's strategic planning group. "But we are in the business of driving down crime so when a crime spike goes up, we're all over it. It is a concern."
It's still too early to pinpoint what's driving the increased violence across the country and in Los Angeles, said Charis Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California at Irvine who analyzes crime in Southern California.
She said there could be a number of contributing factors, including easier access to guns, the poverty rate, a new state law that reduced penalties for certain crimes, and a growing distrust of police, which can contribute to retaliatory violence.
"If you don't see the police as a viable option when you have a problem, then you handle things on your own," Kubrin said.
The LAPD, all the way to the chief, acknowledges that community trust in police is wavering.
Restoring it will be the No. 1 way to turn the crime numbers around, Bert said.
"We make or break our success based on our relationships, based on people's willingness to talk about to police and based on police's ability to get out of their car and talk to people," Bert said. "We can't arrest our way out of this."
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.