By Cindy Chang Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — For the first time in five years, violent crime was down in Los Angeles in 2018, with the number of homicides on track to be among the lowest in more than 50 years.
The data mirror an overall drop in crime this year in the parts of L.A. County patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department. Crime was also down in San Francisco and Oakland.
After decades of steady decline, violent crime — which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — had begun climbing in 2014, with an increase in shootings in South L.A. causing particular concern.
The increase has prompted debate over whether statewide criminal-justice system changes, including Proposition 47, which passed in November 2014 and has kept some low-level offenders out of jail, contributed to the increase in crime.
Some law enforcement officials argue that offenders commit minor crimes knowing they face little to no jail time and having less incentive to enter drug treatment in exchange for more lenient sentences.
The backlash has led to a proposed statewide ballot measure that would reverse some provisions of Prop. 47, toughen supervision of parolees and disqualify some prisoners from early release.
This year, though, Los Angeles “turned a little bit of a corner,” said LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
Overall, crime was down in all categories in 2018, except personal theft, which rose 3 percent. Property crime decreased 2 percent, after increasing each year since 2015.
Moore attributed the decline to policies the department implemented several years ago, including stepped-up analysis of data and an expansion of the elite Metropolitan Division.
“We’re hitting our stride, we believe, in the execution of those strategies, which are not just police-centric, but are dealing with our communities and our partnerships and our engagement with our GRYD [Gang Reduction and Youth Development] resources and others,” said Moore, who became chief in June and previously headed the LAPD’s patrol operations.
With homicides at 256 through Dec. 27 — a 9 percent decline from last year — the city will achieve its ninth straight year of fewer than 300 homicides.
Gang-related homicides were down more than 20 percent, Moore said, crediting LAPD-led youth programs and the work of gang interventionists who try to prevent retaliatory shootings by quashing rumors and talking gang members out of revenge.
Los Angeles is a much safer city than in decades past. In 1992, nearly 90,000 violent crimes were reported, compared with fewer than 30,000 last year. Homicides also peaked in 1992, at 1,092, before falling sharply in the 1990s and continuing to decline in the 2000s.
The number of homicides inched up starting in 2014, with last year’s tally of 282 the first decrease. The clearance rate — cases that are solved or otherwise considered closed — was 73 percent last year.
In the parts of L.A. County patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, crime was also down this year. Statistics through Nov. 30 show a 3 percent decline in homicides, a 5 percent decline in violent crime and an 8 percent decline in property crime.
One exception is Compton, which contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement and has long-standing gang issues. Homicides rose from 15 last year to 19 this year, and violent crime was up 2%.
Elsewhere in California, the San Francisco Police Department, headed by LAPD veteran Bill Scott, reported a 25 percent drop in homicides, a 2 percent drop in violent crime and an 8 percent drop in property crime.
In Oakland, homicides were down slightly this year from the previous year, with total crime down 11 percent.
Calls for service, up by more than 150,000 since 2012, have increased in part because the LAPD now routes some non-urgent calls through dispatch rather than stations, where they would sometimes go unanswered, Moore said.
L.A.’s homeless population continues to be a major challenge for police LAPD. The number of homeless people who were victims of crimes rose 96 percent this year, with the largest increases in aggravated assaults, thefts and robberies,
Arrests of homeless people for felonies increased 12 percent this year. But there was a decrease in arrests of homeless people for misdemeanors, and in citations for offenses such as sleeping on the sidewalk and possessing a shopping cart on the street.
Leonard Delpit, a member of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Council in South L.A., said homeless people in his area clash with business owners and are thought to occasionally be responsible for crimes, including break-ins.
The LAPD’s use of data has been criticized by activists from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and other organizations, which say zeroing in on hot spots puts officers on high alert and makes them more likely to inflict violence on black and Latino residents.
At a recent Police Commission meeting, activists yelled “shame on you” and “opposed,” as the commissioners approved a $35,000 donation to improve technology at West Bureau’s data analysis center.
©2018 Los Angeles Times