Crime Increases for a Sixth Year in Downtown

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that 59,000 people were living without permanent housing in Downtown Los Angeles. That was incorrect. Approximately that many people are living without permanent housing in Los Angeles County.

Crime once again rose in Downtown Los Angeles, with a 4.2% increase in 2019 over 2018, according to data from the Los Angeles Police Department. The rise marks the sixth straight year of increases.

        The LAPD’s Central Division, which is based in Downtown and covers most of the area, recorded a total of 7,850 Part I crimes, which counts violent and property crimes, compared to 7,536 in 2018, as of Wednesday, Jan. 22. That includes a rise of 60 violent crimes over 2018, from 1,935 to 1,995. This comes as violent crime fell overall across the city.

        LAPD Central Division Capt. Timothy Harrelson, who took over running the division in early 2019, said that nearly 50% of Part 1 crime takes place in Skid Row, with other trouble areas continuing to be the Historic Core, and the Seventh and Fifth streets corridors.

        “Downtown has a pretty historic trend and pattern and it stayed consistent,” Harrelson said. “We have Skid Row. Generally speaking approximately 50% of our Part 1 and violent crime, especially more violent crime, will occur in Skid Row. The rest is scattered throughout.”

        The biggest driver of the overall increase in crime was property theft, specifically grand theft person. Harrelson said most of that was in the form of phone or purse snatches. In part, that’s because more people are coming into Downtown, be it tourists or people coming for events, shows or to Downtown’s restaurants. He added that the property theft has been exacerbated around the Metro rail station at Fifth and Hill streets and the Seventh Street/Metro Center station.  The speed in which people can get in and out of Downtown via Metro trains and buses, helps spark crime around the stations. Visitors and tourists can quickly travel into Downtown, but so can thieves.

        “That’s a major point,” Harrelson noted. “It’s a major hub of activity; thousands of people come through daily. They can come in and do whatever crime and be on a train and be out.”

        Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District which operates clean and safe teams around the neighborhood, said that they have noticed an increase in shoplifting from businesses along the Fifth Street corridor. She agreed that the Fifth and Seventh streets Metro spots have been trouble areas for the Historic Core.

        “We’re looking at ways to address that in a new way, as they’ve been ongoing issues,” she said.

        One of the most consistently asked for fixes by community members and groups has been an increase in the number of footbeats that walk city streets. Harrelson agreed on their effectiveness, more in terms of deterring crime by being visible than anything else. He said that making sure Central’s dedicated footbeat unit is out every day of the week has been helpful in preventing spikes in 2019, and that other units, such as the Vice Unit, have been putting officers out on foot patrols since last year.

        On the general increase across almost every category, Harrelson noted that beyond property theft rising, general crime trends have been similar to what Downtown has been facing over the past five years.

        “Everything has its pattern,” Harrelson said. “Truly, honestly, for the crime last year, it was consistent with what we’ve seen in Downtown.”

        Still, as violent crime experienced a slight 3.2% increase, violent crime across Los Angeles is actually going down. For the second year in a row, violent crime stats dipped and for the 10th year in a row, homicides fell below 300 for the year.

        However, in Downtown, homicides did experience a noticeable increase; Central Division reported 17 homicides in 2019, up by three from 2018. That comes after 2018 saw a decline in homicides over 2017, going from 21 then to 14.

        But those looking for a trend will not be able to find one. Harrelson noted that there hasn’t exactly been a trend or pattern in homicides for Downtown and LAPD investigations have not revealed a direct link between the 17 homicides. However, Harrelson did note that two homicides, in October 2019, were connected to an illegal cannabis shop running out of the luxury Watermarke Tower on Ninth and Flower streets. In the days following the homicides, nearly 250 pounds of marijuana was pulled from the building. Harrelson said that crime tied in some way to illegal cannabis operations running out of lofts and towers continues to be an issue.

Crime Increases for a Sixth Year in Downtown

        “We’ve had robberies, aggravated assaults, shootings, two homicides,” Harrelson said. “[They] are not related in terms of suspects or people, but...we’ve had numerous Part 1 violent crimes that have some sort of nexus to illegal cannabis sales or grows.”

        As Los Angeles continues to try to iron out its legal cannabis industry, illegal brick-and-mortar shops continue to operate in far greater numbers, often undercutting business from the legal shops. According to statistics compiled by the data news website Crosstown, which is run out of the Annenberg School of Journalism, crime around cannabis dispensaries increased by 10% during January of 2019, compared to the same month in 2018. (It’s worth noting that the LAPD numbers do not distinguish between illegal cannabis dispensaries and permitted shops).

        The amount of aggravated assaults also increased last year, up to 1,103 over 1,078 in 2018.

Perceptions and Reality

        Despite the citywide decline in violent crime, it might feel like the Central City is becoming less safe. Harrelson said that he understands why Downtown residents feel like things are getting significantly worse, despite the statistics saying otherwise. He said although the numbers discount that, he also does not discount people’s perceptions, “because their perception is their reality.”

        Suzanne Holley, president and CEO of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District said that the 4.2% increase reported by Central Division falls in line with what she expected based on the growth of the Downtown.

        “There is crime, I am not really sure if there is a major city that doesn’t have crime,” Holley said. “One, you have more people, there is more opportunity.” 

        Despite the yearly crime trends ticking up, Holley said she has not seen any real concern from business owners and residents looking into Downtown. She compared the situation to Paris, which itself has a serious pickpocketing problem.

        “I’ve been to Paris and I see signs all over the place warning about pickpockets. I don’t see people not wanting to go to Paris,” Holley said. “It’s part of being in an dense urban environment. I’m thrilled that more people are here.”

        However one situation that does seem to continue to characterize not just Downtown, but Los Angeles, is its spiralling homelessness crisis, with more people living without a home in 2019, according to that year’s Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count.

        Harrelson noted that there are still a number of people who simply do not feel safe around the homeless community, which can feed into perceptions of declining safety in Downtown, despite homeless individuals being just as likely to be targeted by criminals, both homeless and housed. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority there are close to 59,000 people living without shelter in Downtown Los Angeles. According to numbers from the Los Angeles Police Department, despite making up just 1% of the population, homeless people made up 17% of homicide victims.

        “They’re certainly not responsible for all of the crime by any stretch of the imagination,” Harrelson said. “They’re victimized a lot.”

Making Progress

        Central Division is making progress on some of their metrics. One area where progress was made last year was car break-ins. After a noticeable spike in 2018, which totaled 1,768, car break-ins seemed to level out in 2019, with just a 1.1% increase in the crime to 1,787. Harrelson said that while that is more than anyone wants, the leveling off is a sign that people are growing more cognizant to not leave valuable items visible inside of parked cars.

        Part of that plateau, he said, was due to an extreme informational campaign to warn people about protecting their belongings. He said that the Central Division senior lead officers and Central’s main social media accounts repeatedly post on social media with tips and warnings.

        “We’re going to keep doing it until they’re inundated and sick of seeing it,” Harrelson said. “When you do close your car and see your bag, you think ‘maybe I should throw that in the trunk,’”

        Central Division said that most of the spike in property crimes happened at the start of 2019, including a spike around the Financial District and Pershing Square. Harrelson said that, through footbeats and educational campaigns in response, LAPD was able to get that to a level consistent with past year’s trends for the last six months of the year.

        Besten added that ongoing education and information campaigns are key to keeping Downtown residents and visitors prepared for shifting crime trends.

        “It’s about talking to people, it’s about informing people and passing out materials about any issue, be it theft from motor vehicles or purse or phone snatches,” she said.

        Holley agreed, noting that the DCBID is working on an education plan to inform people not to look at their phones as they walk around city streets.

        “Don’t stare at your phone and keep your head up. Don’t leave your phone on a Starbucks table when you go to the bathroom,” Holley said.

        There were two additional declines in 2019. Burglaries fell by 1.7% to 354 incidents, and grand theft autos fell 1.2% to 418.

        Still, Harrelson said that Central Division is not resting on its laurels, when it comes to the progress made on certain crimes.

        “I’m not happy being up 25 robberies, or 25 aggravated assaults over the last year,” Harrelson said. “That’s not our goal. We’re not satisfied with that. But the sheer potential in my opinion is far greater than that. I think we did a very good job this year, at keeping things under control when dealing with population growth, increasing homeless population.”

        sthomas@timespublications.com and nslayton@timespublications.com.

Crime Increases for a Sixth Year in Downtown

A Spike in Property Theft Drove the Rise in Crime in the Central City, Even as Car Break-Ins Plateaued


By Nicholas Slayton and Sean P. Thomas
Crime once again rose in Downtown Los Angeles, with a 4.2% increase in 2019 over 2018, according to data from the Los Angeles Police Department. The rise marks the sixth straight year of increases.
        The LAPD’s Central Division, which is based in Downtown and covers most of the area, recorded a total of 7,850 Part I crimes, which counts violent and property crimes, compared to 7,536 in 2018, as of Wednesday, Jan. 22. That includes a rise of 60 violent crimes over 2018, from 1,935 to 1,995. This comes as violent crime fell overall across the city.
        LAPD Central Division Capt. Timothy Harrelson, who took over running the division in early 2019, said that nearly 50% of Part 1 crime takes place in Skid Row, with other trouble areas continuing to be the Historic Core, and the Seventh and Fifth streets corridors.
        “Downtown has a pretty historic trend and pattern and it stayed consistent,” Harrelson said. “We have Skid Row. Generally speaking approximately 50% of our Part 1 and violent crime, especially more violent crime, will occur in Skid Row. The rest is scattered throughout.”
        The biggest driver of the overall increase in crime was property theft, specifically grand theft person. Harrelson said most of that was in the form of phone or purse snatches. In part, that’s because more people are coming into Downtown, be it tourists or people coming for events, shows or to Downtown’s restaurants. He added that the property theft has been exacerbated around the Metro rail station at Fifth and Hill streets and the Seventh Street/Metro Center station.  The speed in which people can get in and out of Downtown via Metro trains and buses, helps spark crime around the stations. Visitors and tourists can quickly travel into Downtown, but so can thieves.
        “That’s a major point,” Harrelson noted. “It’s a major hub of activity; thousands of people come through daily. They can come in and do whatever crime and be on a train and be out.”
        Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District which operates clean and safe teams around the neighborhood, said that they have noticed an increase in shoplifting from businesses along the Fifth Street corridor. She agreed that the Fifth and Seventh streets Metro spots have been trouble areas for the Historic Core.
        “We’re looking at ways to address that in a new way, as they’ve been ongoing issues,” she said.
        One of the most consistently asked for fixes by community members and groups has been an increase in the number of footbeats that walk city streets. Harrelson agreed on their effectiveness, more in terms of deterring crime by being visible than anything else. He said that making sure Central’s dedicated footbeat unit is out every day of the week has been helpful in preventing spikes in 2019, and that other units, such as the Vice Unit, have been putting officers out on foot patrols since last year.
        On the general increase across almost every category, Harrelson noted that beyond property theft rising, general crime trends have been similar to what Downtown has been facing over the past five years.
        “Everything has its pattern,” Harrelson said. “Truly, honestly, for the crime last year, it was consistent with what we’ve seen in Downtown.”
        Still, as violent crime experienced a slight 3.2% increase, violent crime across Los Angeles is actually going down. For the second year in a row, violent crime stats dipped and for the 10th year in a row, homicides fell below 300 for the year.
        However, in Downtown, homicides did experience a noticeable increase; Central Division reported 17 homicides in 2019, up by three from 2018. That comes after 2018 saw a decline in homicides over 2017, going from 21 then to 14.
        But those looking for a trend will not be able to find one. Harrelson noted that there hasn’t exactly been a trend or pattern in homicides for Downtown and LAPD investigations have not revealed a direct link between the 17 homicides. However, Harrelson did note that two homicides, in October 2019, were connected to an illegal cannabis shop running out of the luxury Watermarke Tower on Ninth and Flower streets. In the days following the homicides, nearly 250 pounds of marijuana was pulled from the building. Harrelson said that crime tied in some way to illegal cannabis operations running out of lofts and towers continues to be an issue.
        “We’ve had robberies, aggravated assaults, shootings, two homicides,” Harrelson said. “[They] are not related in terms of suspects or people, but...we’ve had numerous Part 1 violent crimes that have some sort of nexus to illegal cannabis sales or grows.”
        As Los Angeles continues to try to iron out its legal cannabis industry, illegal brick-and-mortar shops continue to operate in far greater numbers, often undercutting business from the legal shops. According to statistics compiled by the data news website Crosstown, which is run out of the Annenberg School of Journalism, crime around cannabis dispensaries increased by 10% during January of 2019, compared to the same month in 2018. (It’s worth noting that the LAPD numbers do not distinguish between illegal cannabis dispensaries and permitted shops).
        The amount of aggravated assaults also increased last year, up to 1,103 over 1,078 in 2018.
Perceptions and Reality
        Despite the citywide decline in violent crime, it might feel like the Central City is becoming less safe. Harrelson said that he understands why Downtown residents feel like things are getting significantly worse, despite the statistics saying otherwise. He said although the numbers discount that, he also does not discount people’s perceptions, “because their perception is their reality.”
        Suzanne Holley, president and CEO of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District said that the 4.2% increase reported by Central Division falls in line with what she expected based on the growth of the Downtown.
        “There is crime, I am not really sure if there is a major city that doesn’t have crime,” Holley said. “One, you have more people, there is more opportunity.” 
        Despite the yearly crime trends ticking up, Holley said she has not seen any real concern from business owners and residents looking into Downtown. She compared the situation to Paris, which itself has a serious pickpocketing problem.
        “I’ve been to Paris and I see signs all over the place warning about pickpockets. I don’t see people not wanting to go to Paris,” Holley said. “It’s part of being in an dense urban environment. I’m thrilled that more people are here.”
        However one situation that does seem to continue to characterize not just Downtown, but Los Angeles, is its spiralling homelessness crisis, with more people living without a home in 2019, according to that year’s Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count.
        Harrelson noted that there are still a number of people who simply do not feel safe around the homeless community, which can feed into perceptions of declining safety in Downtown, despite homeless individuals being just as likely to be targeted by criminals, both homeless and housed. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority there are close to 59,000 people living without shelter in Los Angeles County. According to numbers from the Los Angeles Police Department, despite making up just 1% of the population, homeless people made up 17% of homicide victims.
        “They’re certainly not responsible for all of the crime by any stretch of the imagination,” Harrelson said. “They’re victimized a lot.”
Making Progress
        Central Division is making progress on some of their metrics. One area where progress was made last year was car break-ins. After a noticeable spike in 2018, which totaled 1,768, car break-ins seemed to level out in 2019, with just a 1.1% increase in the crime to 1,787. Harrelson said that while that is more than anyone wants, the leveling off is a sign that people are growing more cognizant to not leave valuable items visible inside of parked cars.
        Part of that plateau, he said, was due to an extreme informational campaign to warn people about protecting their belongings. He said that the Central Division senior lead officers and Central’s main social media accounts repeatedly post on social media with tips and warnings.
        “We’re going to keep doing it until they’re inundated and sick of seeing it,” Harrelson said. “When you do close your car and see your bag, you think ‘maybe I should throw that in the trunk,’”
        Central Division said that most of the spike in property crimes happened at the start of 2019, including a spike around the Financial District and Pershing Square. Harrelson said that, through footbeats and educational campaigns in response, LAPD was able to get that to a level consistent with past year’s trends for the last six months of the year.
        Besten added that ongoing education and information campaigns are key to keeping Downtown residents and visitors prepared for shifting crime trends.
        “It’s about talking to people, it’s about informing people and passing out materials about any issue, be it theft from motor vehicles or purse or phone snatches,” she said.
        Holley agreed, noting that the DCBID is working on an education plan to inform people not to look at their phones as they walk around city streets.
        “Don’t stare at your phone and keep your head up. Don’t leave your phone on a Starbucks table when you go to the bathroom,” Holley said.
        There were two additional declines in 2019. Burglaries fell by 1.7% to 354 incidents, and grand theft autos fell 1.2% to 418.
        Still, Harrelson said that Central Division is not resting on its laurels, when it comes to the progress made on certain crimes.
        “I’m not happy being up 25 robberies, or 25 aggravated assaults over the last year,” Harrelson said. “That’s not our goal. We’re not satisfied with that. But the sheer potential in my opinion is far greater than that. I think we did a very good job this year, at keeping things under control when dealing with population growth, increasing homeless population.”
        sthomas@timespublications.com and nslayton@timespublications.com.