Unexpectedly: Crime Rates Begin to Rise in Los Angeles

These numbers reflect a stubborn reality, one that we’re not supposed to talk about in the era of “hands up, don’t shoot.”  In 2014, 260 people were murdered in all of Los Angeles, which is covered by officers assigned to 21 separate patrol stations.  But just over half of these murders were committed in the four divisions named above, those collectively known to the cops as the “South End,” an area whose population is less than 17 percent of the city’s as a whole.  The great majority of violent crime in L.A., as is the case in any other city you could name, is committed by young black and Latino males, but a cop can only get into trouble if he admits that these statistics influence his actions on the job.

If this upward trend is to be reversed, it will require dedicated cops to go out on the streets to do the type of police work that deters and prevents crime.  Consider: a pair of officers checks out their gear and loads up into a black-and-white, then heads out on patrol.  They spot a young man they recognize as a gang member, one with a history of violence.  There is something -- in his gait or in the way he tugs at his clothing or in the way he tries to face away from the passing officers -- that suggests he is carrying a gun (yes, good cops can spot these things).  Do our two cops drive on and wait for the radio call of a robbery or shooting, or do they stop their car and risk a foot pursuit or an altercation or even an exchange of gunfire in the knowledge that they could be the next Darren Wilsons, the next pariahs of the American media?

Evidence suggests LAPD officers are choosing the safer option: Arrests in Los Angeles were down 15 percent in 2014 even as crime increased.  One reason for this is simple career survival.  It has been clearly demonstrated that one’s chances for promotion in the LAPD, with precious few exceptions, are not enhanced by feats of good police work.  The path to higher rank leads through administrative jobs, where the risk of personnel complaints, to say nothing of the risk to one’s mortal hide, is minimal.

Compounding this problem is the increasing presence of cameras in police work.  Cameras have been installed in most of the police cars in South L.A. for years, and soon every black-and-white in the city will have them, just as every street cop will be wearing one on his uniform.  Cops do not fear the cameras or what they might reveal as long as the captured footage is viewed and evaluated by someone with actual street experience.  But what often happens is that patrol officers’ actions are scrutinized by people who have spent their careers avoiding the very duties they nonetheless see themselves qualified to judge.  (See here, for example.)

In 1966, 225 people were murdered in Los Angeles, a figure comparable to last year’s total.  Who would have imagined that by 1992 that number would be 1,097?  The city has seen a steady decline in violent crime since then, but now the downward trend has been reversed.  How high can it go?  In the years to come, will all those cameras show dangerous people being arrested, or will they just show a lot of bodies lying in the streets?

(Thumbnail image on PJM homepage created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)