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.”
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.
Another effect of this demographic shift lies in the under-reporting of crime. Illegal aliens are often reluctant to report crimes to the police, this despite the many accommodations made for them in Los Angeles. In 2010, I attended a meeting where LAPD chief Charlie Beck estimated the number of illegal aliens in the city at 600,000. He recently put the figure at 750,000, or roughly 19 percent of the city’s population. With this in mind, it doesn’t require a great leap of logic to conclude that some significant number of crimes in the city go unreported.
But one crime that seldom goes unreported is murder, and in this category the numbers are easily verifiable. Los Angeles set a record for murders back in 1992, when a staggering 1,092 people came to a violent end on the city’s streets. As of Dec. 15 of this year, the figure was 289, roughly equal to the number of murders recorded in South L.A.’s 77th Street and Southeast Divisions in 1992.
And though the level of violence in South Los Angeles is nowhere near what it was in the ‘80s and 90s, there is some cause for alarm even among the otherwise encouraging news. In 77th Street Division this year, there had been 50 homicides as of Dec. 15, a 79 percent increase from the same period a year ago. When crime in L.A. exploded in the ’80s, the explosion began in South Los Angeles and radiated outward. Whether these numbers in 77th Street Division signal a similarly ominous trend remains to be seen. The total number of homicides for the city is up only slightly this year, but it’s worth noting that 11 of the city’s 21 patrol divisions have seen increases.
Even as the number of homicides has increased in many parts of the city, overall serious crime has declined – or increased only slightly – in most of those 21 patrol divisions. The notable exception has been Hollenbeck Division, on the city’s east side, where Part I (i.e. serious) crime is up 19 percent from a year ago. Residents of that area will not find encouragement in the way the LAPD has chosen to respond to this. Many in the department, myself among them, would attribute the greater part of this increase in crime to the disruptions thrust upon that station’s rank-and-file cops by a commanding officer who, to put it as mildly as I can, is lacking in many fundamental qualities of leadership. Yet, for reasons perhaps explained here, she has continued to advance up the promotional ladder.
And how did the department react when this failure of leadership on the part of the captain was manifested in higher crime? Veteran cops everywhere already know the answer: They left her in place . . . and transferred the lieutenants.
Yes, that should work out just fine.