Killings in L.A. are on pace to top last year's high

Los Angeles, California April 10 2022-Law enforcement investigators comb the scene of a shooting along Blakley Ave. in Willowbrook Saturday where two people were shot dead and four injured. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Investigators at the scene of a shooting that killed two and injured four in Willowbrook in April. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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People are being killed in Los Angeles so far this year at a slightly faster pace than 2021, when homicides hit a 15-year high, according to the latest data from Los Angeles police.

While the newly released figures indicate the dramatic escalation in violence that the city experienced in 2020 and 2021 may be leveling off, they show violent deaths are still occurring far more frequently than a few years ago, experts said.

"We certainly see instances of street violence that we tie into gangs, with a lot of ready and easy access to handguns and rifles," LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an interview with The Times. "It's resulting in this loss of life and this high frequency of shootings."

Through April 30, there had been 122 homicides in L.A., six more than were recorded during the same time period in 2021, according to the data. Last year ended with 397 killings in the city, the largest annual total since 2006.

The bloodshed remains far below that of the early 1990s, when the city had more than 1,000 homicides per year. But it nonetheless marked another uptick, however slight, in the troubling surge of gun violence that erupted in 2020 and has become a top concern among residents as well as a key issue in the race for the city's next mayor.

While up only marginally compared to 2021, this year's homicide count represents about a 40% increase in killings over the same period in 2020, which included the final months before COVID-19 emerged in the U.S., protests over the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd erupted and the crime landscape radically changed in cities across the nation.

While the rest of the year could see a significant decrease in the rate of killings, the numbers so far likely scuttle any hope that the city would find a way to return to pre-pandemic levels of gun violence, experts said.

Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst whose firm AH Datalytics maintains an online database of homicide totals in 71 U.S. cities, said homicides nationally were down slightly less than 1% overall through March — which was similar to where L.A. stood at the time.

While some cities have seen big increases in killings this year and others big drops, Asher said the data so far suggest the rapid increases in killings across the country in the latter half of 2020 and in 2021 have peaked.

"It's plausible that things sort of leveled out at this new, elevated level of murders," Asher said. "What we're looking for: Is this a plateau, or are things going to come down? Or are they going to keep rising?" Asher said.

In L.A., the level of killing has fluctuated. A drop in homicides at the start of the year, which was cause for cautious optimism, was offset by a spike in killings in recent weeks. Homicides were down 25% through January, compared to 2021, but that decline had narrowed to 13% by the end of March. Then, there were 36 homicides in April, a month which saw only 21 killings last year, Moore said.

Moore said the violence was driven in part by a cluster of shootings in the city's 77th Division, where disputes among gangs appeared to be escalating into gun violence. Of the 36 homicides in the city in April, 11 were in the 77th, Moore said.

Moore said killings were also occurring within the city's large homeless population, with more than a fifth of all 2022 killings involving a homeless victim. Moore said he didn't have information on how many suspects in this year's killings were unhoused since many killings remain unsolved.

Moore said the "overarching effort" among police now is "to try to quell further acts of violence" by working with gang intervention workers and other community leaders to quell disputes and perceived insults that may spur gang shootings, as well as by adding investigative resources to identify and arrest suspects.

The LAPD, Moore said, is focused "on identifying who the trigger-pullers are, who is responsible for this," but added police need help from witnesses and others with information, who are often reluctant to assist police.

He said he was encouraged by Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposed budget, which called for an increase to LAPD funding, because it would in part help bolster teams of investigators tasked with addressing violent crime.

Beyond homicides, year-to-date data compiled by the LAPD show a more nuanced picture of crime in the city in 2022 than has been portrayed recently by some candidates running for mayor and others.

Critics of the city's current leaders have suggested crime is spiraling out of control at unprecedented levels, while activists and police reform advocates have argued claims of a crime surge are a ruse to justify increased police budgets.

The data show crime locally is a mixed bag, with increases in many categories that nonetheless reach nowhere near historic highs.

Shootings through April 23 were down 2.9% compared to last year, though up nearly 69% over 2020. Reported rape was down 19.1% from last year, and down 24% from 2020, according to LAPD data, though some officials have expressed concerns that those declines are being driven in part by underreporting.

Violent crime of all types through April 23 was up 7.2% compared to last year, with much of the increase from aggravated assaults and robberies, many of which involved firearms, according to police. Robberies are up 18.5% over last year.

Property crimes through April 23 were up 11.4% from 2021, with burglaries up 8%. Motor vehicle thefts were up 13.1% over last year, and nearly 40% over 2020.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.