LAPD Reports a Sharp Increase in Violent Crime. So What’s Behind It?

There’s no consensus, but analysts have some theories

The new year is off to a deadly start, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. South Los Angeles suffered 59 shootings in the first 14 days of 2021, says LAPD Chief Michel Moore. “59 shooting victims compared to 7 last year,” he announced in a tweet calling out the violence.

‪The 24 homicides and 68 shootings the city of Los Angeles saw in the first half of January were more than double the number from the same time last year. The 68 shootings marked “the highest year-to-date start in over 10 years,” the LAPD said in a tweet.

‪The bloody start to 2021 picks up right where 2020 left off. According to LAPD stats, homicides in L.A. shot up 38 percent last year, and the city’s year-end total of 349 homicide victims was its highest in over a decade. Then, as now, the L.A. neighborhoods hardest hit by the violent crime increase were predominantly poor, Black, and Latino.

‪Curiously, homicides and shootings (and car thefts) are up, while other crimes, such as rape and robbery, are down (25 percent and 17 percent, respectively), all of which has left analysts befuddled.

‪‪Many of the decreases in crime probably have to do with a decrease in mobility and opportunity due to the pandemic. But there’s no consensus as to why homicides and shootings have spiked since the summer. Paul Vernon, the L.A. police captain who tracks crime trends as head of the department’s Compstat division, recently batted around some theories with Kevin Rector of the L.A. Times. It could be the strains the pandemic has put on the business of drug dealers. Or that bitter rivals are stuck at home with nowhere really to go. Or that the racial reckoning over the summer put the department on the defensive and made criminals less afraid of being caught by police.

‪Analysts who are not police officers tend to adopt a more holistic view of the spike, attributing it to a confluence of factors including increased economic anxiety, widespread unemployment, and the compassionate release of inmates to alleviate overcrowding in prisons and jails by slowing the spread of COVID-19.

‪High homicide rates are nothing new to Los Angeles, where there were more than 1,000 slayings in the year of the Rodney King riots in 1992. But the sense of suddenness to the present surge—not only in L.A. but in cities nationwide—is unprecedented, experts say.

‪Killings increased by 20.9 percent nationwide in the first nine months of 2020, according to the FBI. Killings in New York City jumped 50 percent; Chicago, 50 percent; Atlanta, 58 percent. Jeff Asher, an analyst and consultant who studies crime data, told The Washington Post that though antiquated data-collection methods hinder conclusions, “it’s fairly clear we are going to see the largest single-year rise.”

‪Richard B. Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, told the Post that the nationwide spike in violent crime appears to have resulted from the collapse of public confidence in police departments over the summer.

‪“The increase [in 2020] tends to occur in nearly every city at the very end of May and the first days of June,” Rosenfeld noted. “The size and abruptness of the increase are unprecedented.”

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