New Crime Stats Revealed: Homicides in Los Angeles Soared in 2021

The city recorded 397 murders last year, and LAPD also shot more people than in previous years

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Michel Moore joined other city and LAPD representatives on Thursday to reveal 2021 city crime statistics, and to discuss policing strategies in the new year. Although they would detail Los Angeles experiencing its highest number of homicides in nearly 15 years, two recent incidents dominated the nearly 90-minute event in the courtyard of the LAPD’s 77th Street station.

One was the death of Valentina Orellana Peralta, who was hit by a ricocheting bullet on Dec. 23 when police opened fire on a suspect, armed with a heavy bicycle lock, who had attacked victims in a Burlington store. The 14-year-old Chile native died in her mother’s arms in a dressing room.

“Valentina should still be here with us,” Garcetti pronounced shortly after he stepped to the podium.

The other incident was the shooting death, on Monday evening, of Fernando Arroyos, a 27-year-old LAPD officer working out of the Olympic Division. Arroyos, a three-year veteran of the force who graduated from U.C. Berkeley, was off-duty at the time. He and his girlfriend were looking at a house they hoped to buy in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, just outside of city limits, when they were confronted by three men who tried to rob them. Moore and others discussed what they said was Arroyos’ bright future.

“I remember him from his graduation” from the Police Academy, Garcetti stated.

The incidents put two different lenses on the gun violence that has rampaged across Los Angeles since the onset of the pandemic. The city last year experienced 397 murders, up 11.8 percent from the 355 the previous year, and a 53.9 percent increase from the 258 in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. It was the highest figure since the 395 killings in 2007.

The department also reported 1,459 victims shot in 2021. Two years before, 946 people were shot in the city.

LAPD personnel in 2021 also fired their weapons more than in the recent past. Activists have charged that police are too quick to draw their guns, particularly when confronting homeless individuals, the mentally ill or people of color.

Moore said that officers discharged their firearms 37 times last year, up from 27 instances the year before, and 20 in 2019. On Tuesday, he told the Los Angeles Police Commission that 18 people died last year in what the department terms “officer-involved shootings.” That compares with seven people killed in these incidents in 2020.

The death of Orellana Peralta and other recent incidents have prompted the LAPD to re-examine its policies, training and tactics, in particular when confronting a suspect armed with a weapon other than a gun. Moore said that in 22 of the 37 OIS incidents last year, the suspect did not have a firearm.

A trio of investigations into the death of Orellana Peralta are underway, including one being conducted by the office of state Attorney General Rob Bonta. At Thursday’s event, William Briggs, president of the Police Commission, said the panel will hear the results of another investigation, and ultimately will determine if police activity that day was in line with department policy.

Los Angeles is not an anomaly when it comes to the increase in homicides and gun violence, and cities across the country have seen murders and violent crime surge since the arrival of the coronavirus. Experts and law enforcements officials have attributed the increase to factors ranging from the economic downturn to a lack of gang intervention workers to tamp down retaliatory violence.

Chicago recorded 797 homicides in 2021, and there were 485 in New York City. Garcetti Thursday said that the homicide rate last year in cities such as Phoenix, Baltimore and Kansas City were all well above what Los Angeles endured.

“We see this tremendously relatively safe city in comparison,” Garcetti said. “I say this not to minimize, but to contextualize.”

Garcetti and Moore lamented a surge in crimes involving firearms, citing a proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are often manufactured on 3D printers and lack serial numbers, and are impossible to trace. The LAPD’s 2021 “Crime & Initiatives” report, also released Thursday, said that 8,861 illegal firearms were seized in the city last year, by far the most in at least a decade. That included 1,921 ghost guns; in 2020, the department recovered 833 ghost guns.

Moore said the department has been working with the FBI and the ATF to disrupt “four major operations” of gun manufacture and selling. He added that two 3D printers used to make gun parts were confiscated.

Despite the surge in gun violence, some other types of crime in the city have decreased. LAPD statistics show that the number of burglaries in 2021 was about 8 percent below the level in the previous year. Although robberies increased about 5 percent over 2020, they have fallen approximately 12 percent since 2019.

Other findings from the “Crime & Initiatives” report include:

Violent crime in the city increased 3.9 percent last year compared with 2020. However, the 30,078 violent crimes in Los Angeles last year is a 66.2 percent drop from the 88,919 in 1992.

Property crime rose 4.2 percent last year over 2020, but there were about 5,000 fewer incidents in 2021 than in 2019. Additionally, the 90,090 property crimes last year is a 63.9 percent decline from 249,612 in 1992.

The LAPD ended last year with  9,516 sworn officers. This is down from 9,804 in 2020, and 10,073 in 2019. The decrease was a result of budget constraints and a temporary pandemic hiring freeze.

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