With Los Angeles County on the brink of officially entering the least restrictive COVID-19 reopening tier, that good news is being undermined by a spike in shootings and other violent crimes.
In the first four months of 2021, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center has seen a nearly 87 percent increase in the number of patients experiencing “penetrating trauma,” such as gunshots and stabbings, over the same period in 2020, and that’s only one indicator of an alarming trend, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Data from the Los Angeles Police Department shows that 465 people were shot in the city between January 1 and May 1 this year, a 67 percent jump over 2020, while homicides had already hit 115 on Sunday, an increase of more than 26 percent compared to this time last year.
The news is equally grim in the surrounding areas. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department reports that homicides in its jurisdiction rose by more than 113 percent in the first three months of 2021, with 64 people murdered, up from 30 killed last year. In that time, aggravated assaults with guns have risen by 82 percent, with 465 victims over 255 in 2020.
Police have attributed the rise to gang activity and the easy availability of guns; other experts say the pandemic is preventing in-person meetings between intervention workers the people most affected by violent crime.
Anne Tremblay, legal counsel to Mayor Garcetti and former boss of the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development office, tells the Times that intervention workers are frustrated by “Zoom fatigue” because doing their jobs remotely “is less than ideal to reach young people who are in need of support, whether they are at high risk for gang-joining or already gang-involved or -affiliated.”
LAPD Chief Michel Moore recently told the Police Commission that despite gun arrests being up by 90 percent this year, it’s still difficult to counteract the sheer number of firearms hitting the streets, especially untraceable “ghost guns,” which people assemble from parts ordered online.
Gang interventionist Skipp Townsend cited ghost guns as one cause behind the trend, claiming some youth used stimulus money to buy the unregistered weapons and then showed them off and taunted rivals on social media, sometimes filming themselves in closed parks.
Tremblay hopes that easing the lockdown will help stem the violence as interventionists get real life access to the people they serve, telling the Times, “They’ll be looking forward to that in-person interaction, that direct connection between the youth and families and young adults they are trying to reach.”