LA officials lean into view that crime’s up. Does data support it?

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It can be dangerous when local leaders respond to the perception of crime rather than the data itself, says LA Times columnist Erika Smith. Photo by Shutterstock.

It's easy to get a sense that crime is running amoc in LA when you read the news. The media honed in on a high-profile murder in Beverly Hills, a shooting near an elementary school in Wilmington, and several smash-and-grab thefts over the past month. 

But the actual numbers show that home invasions and burglaries are the lowest in more than a decade, according to Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism and editor of the data news site Crosstown.

“If someone is a victim of a home invasion or a burglary, it’s obviously going to make them feel very vulnerable, and they might communicate that to their neighbors,” he says. “But the fact is the burglary rate is lower than it has been in many, many years.”

In a press conference in early December, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore responded to the recent spate of robberies and burglaries by taking tough-on-crime stances.

“We will find you, we will arrest you and we will prosecute you,” said Garcetti.

“There are consequences for those individuals who attempt to engage in this type of conduct,” said Moore.The LA City Council approved a $200 million budget increase for the LAPD next year, partially citing a rise in crime.

LA Times columnist Erika Smith, who wrote about the politicization of Jacqueline Avant’s death, says it can be misleading when local leaders respond to the perception of crime rather than the data itself.

“It’s fascinating how fast things can change,” she says, noting that last year’s conversations centered around defunding the police. “It leaves a smaller path for activists and people who want to see police reform to move forward because public opinion, or at least the perception of public opinion, is definitely changing as there are more and more headlines about violent crime and robberies. It is a bit of a whiplash.”

Dan Schnur, professor of politics and communications at USC and former Republican strategist, says crime will play an important role in next year’s mayoral election.

“As the mood changes [around crime], there’s going to be tremendous pressure on more traditionally progressive democrats, people like Karen Bass, like Kevin de León, like Mike Feuer, to respond to a more aggressive approach of the type we’d hear from [Joe] Buscaino and Rick Caruso,” he says.

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