TOO SOON TO TELL WHAT’S BEHIND HIGHER CRIME RATES AND WHETHER WE HAVE REACHED THE END OF THE DOWNWARD CRIME TREND
Homicide and crime rates appear to be on the rise across the country, but there is much debate over what’s behind the shift, both at the local and national levels.
In LA last month, there were 39 homicides, an August number that has not been matched since 2007. And the murder rate from January until now is 7% higher than it was last year. South L.A.’s 77th Division has been hit the hardest, with 43 homicides so far this year. And violent crime jumped 20% during the first six months of 2015 in LA in comparison to the the first half of 2014.
The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:
Until now, Los Angeles had avoided the rise in killings reported by other large cities around the country this year. Homicides in Washington, D.C., have already reached the level experienced during all of 2014. Killings are up 20% in Chicago and 7% in New York compared with the same periods last year.
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said it’s difficult to know what is driving the increases. He noted that some argue that police behavior has become less aggressive in a large number of cities in the face of increased public scrutiny over how officers use force. Another theory, he said, is that the rise in crime is tied to expanding heroin markets.
“It’s going to take some time to figure this out,” he said.
Despite the uptick, the homicide rates in Los Angeles and other cities are far lower than in decades past. The number of killings in L.A. peaked in 1992, when the city saw 1,092 homicides. Last year, the figure was 260.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted earlier this week that homicides in the city had been down this year until August, which he described as a “horrible month.”
“You can’t draw huge conclusions over one month,” Beck told the Police Commission on Tuesday. “But the month of August hopefully does not portend what will occur during the following months of the year.”
LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others have blamed the county’s higher crime rates (although McDonnell did not mention homicides) on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.
And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.
The NY Times’ Monica Davey and Mitch Smith take a look at the national homicide trends and what law enforcement and crime experts are pointing to as contributing factors, including “a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.” Here’s a clip:
Rivalries among organized street gangs, often over drug turf, and the availability of guns are cited as major factors in some cities, including Chicago. But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.
“Maintaining one’s status and credibility and honor, if you will, within that peer community is literally a matter of life and death,” Milwaukee’s police chief, Edward A. Flynn, said. “And that’s coupled with a very harsh reality, which is the mental calculation of those who live in that strata that it is more dangerous to get caught without their gun than to get caught with their gun.”
The results have often been devastating. Tamiko Holmes, a mother of five, has lost two of her nearly grown children in apparently unrelated shootings in the last eight months. In January, a daughter, 20, was shot to death during a robbery at a birthday party at a Days Inn. Six months later, the authorities called again: Her only son, 19, had been shot in the head in a car — a killing for which the police are still searching for a motive and a suspect.
Ms. Holmes said she recently persuaded her remaining teenage daughters to move away from Milwaukee with her, but not before one of them, 17, was wounded in a shooting while riding in a car.
“The violence was nothing like this before,” said Ms. Holmes, 38, who grew up in Milwaukee. “What’s changed is the streets and the laws and the parents. It’s become a mess and a struggle.”
Urban bloodshed — as well as the overall violent crime rate — remains far below the peaks of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and criminologists say it is too early to draw broad conclusions from the recent numbers.
In New Orleans, Michael S. Harrison, the police superintendent, said the city’s rise in homicides did not appear to reflect any increase in gang violence or robberies of strangers, but rather involved killings inside homes and cars by people who know their victims — particularly difficult crimes to predict or prevent.
“That is not a situation that can be solved by policing,” Superintendent Harrison said. “It speaks to a culture of violence deeply ingrained into a community — a segment of the population where people are resolving their problems in a violent way.”
In New York, there have been a larger number of gang-related killings, Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, said. But he also said many homicides remained unexplained, the result of disputes with murky origins. “There are a lot of murders that happen in the spur of the moment,” Mr. Davis said.
In eight years as police chief in Milwaukee, Chief Flynn seemed to have brought the pace of murders under control. After a high of 165 in 1991, killings had dipped significantly.
“We thought we were having an impact,” Chief Flynn said. But as murders have multiplied in recent months — a death in a suspected drug house, a roommate beaten to death, a teenager shot at a kitchen table — Chief Flynn sounds far less certain. “I don’t even want to hazard what pace we’re on right now.”
(The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates slams the NY Times story for their vague and problematic inclusion of the “Ferguson effect” as a possible contributor.)
The Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman suggests that despite the recent rise in crime rates, the US is still in the midst of a larger downward crime trend.
In an op-ed for CNN, UC Irvine criminology, law, and society professor, George Tita, says that while it is too early to tell whether the short-term numbers in LA and other cities are indicative of a long-term uptick in homicide and violent crime rates, we have come a long way from the incredible gun violence of the 80′s and 90′s.
Tita goes on to say that there’s a good chance that the surge in LA, which LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has attributed to a gang feud, will be a “one-time blip.” Here’s a clip:
For those cities not already doing so, then it is time they got ahead of the recent trends in violence and revisit the kind of interventions that proved so effective in the past. Doing so would also not just help with the immediate issue of rising crime levels and gun violence, but would also offer an opportunity in the “post-Ferguson” world to bring together the community and police to help repair what appears to be growing distrust between both parties.
More specifically, the collection and utilization of data has generally resulted in more effective policing, and can be used to help stem the current rises in violent crime.
Larger police departments routinely use data-driven “predictive policing” analytics to allocate resources to emerging crime “hot spots.” Similarly, social network analysis is being employed to better understand relationships among individuals or between rival gang factions, while police are increasingly able to quickly find out about “minor” incidents between individuals from human intelligence sources and monitor or even intervene in a situation before it explodes into lethal violence.
It is because of such data that Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, for example, can determine that the very recent surge in violence is concentrated in a particular part of town and that it involves a long-standing feud between particular gangs, and react accordingly.
So long as the community continues to be invited to the table in South Los Angeles, the latest surge in violence should just be a one-time blip.
A final reason for optimism is that from the limited data available, a key element that would be cause for particular concern seems to be missing — there doesn’t seem to be what social scientists term an “agent of contagion” to the recent spate of violence.
During the previous epidemic of violence, open-air crack cocaine markets proliferated; cities that had little or no history with urban street gangs now found themselves dealing with young people identifying themselves as “Crips” or “Bloods;” and every kid, it seemed, had access to a firearm.
So while 25 years ago we were dealing with a youth-gun homicide epidemic, this time it’s not clear that young people are the most susceptible population. In fact, a quick look at the homicide report maintained by the Los Angeles Times for the months of July and August shows that while African-American and Latino males remain overrepresented among victims, the average age of the victims is 37.