LOS ANGELES — For years, Los Angeles residents, like many in communities across the country, have complained about growing crime – from catalytic converter theft to stolen packages, or far worse – and the impact on their quality of life.
More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, USA TODAY took a look at the data to assess how much crime really has gone up and whether people are more, or less, safe than they were back in 2019.
Los Angeles saw an 11% increase in its overall crime rate in 2022, with 60 reported crimes per 1,000 residents last year compared with 54 per 1,000 residents in 2019. The data includes both violent crimes, defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to include rape, robberies, armed assault and homicide, as well as property crimes, such as burglary, arson and vehicle theft.
It’s impossible to discuss crime in Los Angeles without considering the city’s massive unhoused population, which by some measurements is the largest in the nation. Blocks of tents parked in green spaces and along sidewalks downtown and in more affluent Westside neighborhoods were allowed to remain in place during the height of the pandemic and ultimately helped fuel rising crime rates.
Newly elected Mayor Karen Bass, who has vowed to make solving L.A.’s homelessness crisis her top priority in her first year in office, plans to move people from street encampments into hotel rooms and permanent housing.
Mental illness, an increase in the use of narcotics such as fentanyl, plus an increase in homeless people carrying weapons, are among the factors contributing to an increase in crime numbers, said Los Angeles police Capt. Elaine Morales, the commanding officer of Central Division. The area includes downtown’s infamous “Skid Row,” a 54-block area where many of L.A.’s unhoused population lives in tents near community resources geared toward them.
The findings about Los Angeles crime trends come from a USA TODAY analysis of data gathered by Crosstown, a nonprofit based at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, which provides community-level crime statistics from the reports made to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Some caveats: The data does not account for the roughly 500,000 Californians who left the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which could translate into an increase in the reported crime rate in many neighborhoods. It includes only crimes reported to the police, which means crimes victims may be reluctant to report aren’t counted. Lastly, conclusions about crime rates involving smaller neighborhoods can be skewed because the data pool is so small.
Los Angeles crime map by neighborhood
One of the neighborhoods that experienced a major surge in crime was downtown Los Angeles, which in the years preceding the pandemic had increasingly become a regional hub for entertainment, dining and business.
Downtown L.A.’s crime rate was more than six times the citywide rate and triple other L.A. neighborhoods in 2022. There were more than 370 reported crimes per 1,000 people recorded downtown last year.
In comparison, neighborhoods with the lowest crime rates last year were three residential areas: the hilly northeast hipster community of Mount Washington, the affluent Westside neighborhood of Beverlywood and the quiet suburban San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Porter Ranch. All three neighborhoods had fewer than 24 reported crimes per its 1,000 residents but are also collectively less populous than all of downtown Los Angeles.
How violent crime compares with property crime
Some neighborhoods experienced what at first appears to be a steep rise in violent crime, but a closer look tells a different story. For instance, the data shows violent crime soared 114% from 2019 to 2022 in the 5,500-resident Westside neighborhood of Rancho Park, but that was the result of the number of these episodes rising from seven to 15. That’s still less than three reported violent crimes per 1,000 residents.
By comparison, downtown, with more than 50,000 residents, experienced a 25% increase in violent crime – from more than 1,800 incidents in 2019 to more than 2,200 in 2022 – and a rate of 45 reported violent crimes per 1,000 residents. In property crime, downtown saw the highest percentage increase as well as crime rate, with a nearly 57% increase in property crime between 2019 and 2022 and roughly 167 property crimes reported per 1,000 residents.
Morales, the commanding officer of Central Division, which includes much of downtown, said the area is very diverse and a “target rich” environment for criminals. That’s because it contains major business and entertainment areas and, as a result, more foot traffic from local visitors, tourists and professionals, Morales said. She added that the criminals often are visitors to the area.
“Property crime is what drives most of my crime numbers,” Morales noted, “specifically as refers to burglary from motor vehicles.”
Morales said the division has been able to work specifically to address property crimes in 2023, with overtime details and special taskforces that she said enabled her to drop the rate of motor vehicle burglaries from near 45% to 28% in the first two months of the year.
The crime rate in your LA neighborhood
Change in crime rate by Los Angeles neighborhood
Outside of downtown, some of the largest increases in crime rates were on L.A.’s Westside, with greater wealth and home to many national chain and high-end retailers. Neighborhoods including Century City, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista and Sawtelle all saw overall crime rates increase dramatically between 2018 and 2022.
Century City, home to a major shopping mall that’s been the target of high-end “smash and grab” thefts, saw its property crime rate increase by 35% from 80 reported crimes per 1,000 residents to 108 in four years. Such increases across many Westside neighborhoods – which trend whiter and richer on average than most L.A. neighborhoods – looked the same when analyzed from 2019 to 2022:
- Palms saw a 35% in reported property crimes and a 7% increase in violent crimes;
- Playa Vista saw a 28% increase in property and 50% increase in violent crimes;
- Mar Vista saw an 8% increase in property and 33% increase in violent crimes;
- Del Rey experienced a 14% increase in property and 25% increase in violent crime; and
- Brentwood had a 20% increase in property and 15% increase in violent crimes.
How homelessness affects crime rates
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Traci Park, whose district includes many of these Westside neighborhoods, said a lot of violent crime involves homeless-on-homeless crimes around and within encampments that sprang up and were allowed by city officials to remain in place during the pandemic.
“That is something that is highly, highly concerning to me,” said Park, who was elected in 2022 on a strong public safety platform. “But it’s not only the unhoused population who is the victim of crime. Every day, people out in the neighborhoods or community, people working in local businesses, have been victimized, whether by assaults or armed robberies. It’s pretty commonplace.”
Park, who said she experienced an attempted carjacking in front of her home a year and a half ago, said some of the biggest frustrations residents raised during her campaign involved small crimes that impacted their quality of life: stolen bicycles, stolen packages or items stolen from cars.
In areas with higher-end retail, there are crimes of opportunity where people are engaging in smash and grabs or are “porch pirates” stealing packages, said Vicki Halliday, who lives in the Westside neighborhood of Venice and serves on the Venice Neighborhood Council, an advisory body that’s part of the L.A. city government and is funded by taxpayers.
Halliday attributed the drop in property crime in the area to the clearing of some homeless encampments in the area during 2021.
Another large encampment near Halliday’s home was cleared in early January after Park and the mayor teamed up to get people into interim housing. Park, who also lives in Venice, said the neighborhood has since seen a 63% drop in violent crime since that roughly 80-person encampment was dismantled.
Will this plan work? LA has an ambitious plan to end homelessness and clear tent cities.
“We had the biggest encampments outside of Skid Row,” Halliday said.
Now, she added: “They’re all gone.”
Auto-part thefts shatter records
Across Los Angeles, auto parts are being snatched and sold at an unprecedented pace. Last year hit a record when more than 6,970 auto parts were reported stolen, 219% more than the number reported stolen in 2018.
The rise in auto-part thefts began during the pandemic, when many Los Angeles residents were stuck at home and the city suspended many parking regulations. In July 2019, there were 147 theft reports. Roughly six months later, the number had doubled.
Catalytic converters, the part of a vehicle’s emissions system that converts harmful pollutants in engine exhaust into less environmentally toxic pollutants, account for the vast majority of recent thefts, and part of what is driving the increase is the rise in prices for palladium, rhodium and platinum, according to Crosstown.
In November 2022, there were 913 reports of stolen auto parts, the most in any single month since at least 2010, when the Los Angeles Police Department began making its data public.
Some Westside neighborhoods experienced an increase because many houses lack garages for tenants, Halliday said. She noted that the Los Angeles Police Department embarked on a major campaign in 2022 to etch vehicle identification numbers onto catalytic converters to help track stolen car parts.
The noticeable drop in auto-part thefts toward the end of 2022 is also likely attributed to many people returning to work and parking in more secure garages during the day, said Richard Rosenfeld, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Residents also may have adjusted their behavior after a public service campaign by city officials, Park said. Advice has included telling residents to install more cameras, park cars in their driveways or garages instead of the street and engage in neighborhood watch groups.
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Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at @latams or email her at tami(at)usatoday.com.