Crime Down in L.A., Local Newspaper Baffled

When the crime experts are baffled, I’m here to help.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that crime in the city of Los Angeles has dropped for the tenth straight year.  As is often the case, criminologists are at pains to explain why.  Note that there are always ready explanations when crime goes up.  You simply point to whatever socioeconomic malady that happens to be occurring and blame it for any concurrent rise in the crime rate.

Recession?  Crime goes up.

Housing slump?  Ditto.

Rise in unemployment?  Uh huh.  You get the idea.

It all fits in nicely with the poverty-causes-crime meme accepted as gospel by many on the Left and even some on the Right.

But here in Los Angeles the economic news has been even worse these past few years than it has been in the country as a whole.  Though it’s been trending downward lately, the unemployment rate in L.A. has been above 9 percent for four years. And though the real estate market has begun to rebound, home prices in some areas of Southern California are still far below the highs seen back in 2006. If hard economic times did indeed cause crime to rise as we’ve so long been told, one would expect Los Angeles to have seen some correspondingly bleak crime figures. And yet crime has continued on this ten-year downward trend. How to explain it?

An expert consulted by the Times was perplexed.  “The fact that [crime in] Los Angeles has continued to decline, especially when several factors haven’t been as good as they could be — it’s remarkable, frankly,” U.C. Irvine criminologist Charis Kubrin told the Times.  “I’m puzzled.”

I’m not.

Mentioned in the story are some possible explanations for this decline, though an important one is not fleshed out.  “Sociologists and criminologists,” says the Times, declining to name any, “say other likely factors include strict sentencing laws that, until recently, increased the number of people in prison; demographic shifts; and sociological influences.”

“Demographic shifts”?  Note how that seemingly innocuous term is tucked in there without explanation. Which demographic groups are shifting, to where, and to what effect?  The use of this term cries out for further analysis.  None is provided, perhaps for reasons that will soon be apparent.

It is widely known but rarely mentioned that crime is higher among some demographic groups than others.  Indeed, it’s considered impolite to talk about such things, but facts are facts, and some facts bear discussion when pondering those demographic shifts.  In Los Angeles, as in the country generally, blacks commit more crimes per capita than Latinos, who commit more crimes than whites.  Thus, in those parts of Los Angeles where Latinos have supplanted blacks, crime has gone down accordingly.

When I first started working as a patrol officer in South-Central Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, there were relatively few Latinos living anywhere south of Adams Boulevard, and the farther south one went, the fewer Latinos one encountered.  But the biggest demographic shift that has occurred during my career with the LAPD has been the steady influx of Latinos into neighborhoods that were once all but exclusively black.  The decline in crime – particularly violent crime – that has accompanied this transformation is not a coincidence.