DTLA - The 2015 crime figures for Downtown are shocking, and if unchecked they threaten to undermine the progress the area has enjoyed over the last 15 years. They prompt what may be the most important question facing the community: Keeping in mind that it would be unrealistic to assume the reductions in crime go on forever, is Downtown Los Angeles a safe place to live, work and visit?
We think the answer is yes, even if life here is not quite as comfortable as it had come to be. That said, the crime surge demands immediate attention. Without a comprehensive, coordinated and multi-pronged approach, the area’s reputation as a place where businesses want to open and people want to live and raise a family will be thrown into question.
Los Angeles Downtown News last week wrote about the 2015 crime statistics for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Division, which covers Downtown. Crime rose across the board.
Most disconcerting is the spike in violent crime, with 1,692 reported incidents last year in Downtown, or an average of about five every day. This represents a 52% increase from 2014. It is nearly a 100% jump from the 891 violent crimes committed in Downtown in 2013.
Robberies shot up from 471 in 2014 to 669 last year. Any Downtowner who parks a car on the street has a reason to fret: Vehicle thefts soared 65%, to 410 from 249 the previous year.
Downtown also saw drastic increases in aggravated assaults and burglaries. Overall property crime jumped 28%. Last spring Downtown News reported on a surge in bike thefts, with many stolen despite being locked.
Should Downtowners worry about these trends? Yes. Should they pack up and leave? No. There is plenty to work with to improve things.
As we say, the spike comes after Los Angeles saw crime decline for more than a decade, to the point that it would have been unrealistic to expect it to keep falling. While the city as a whole experienced a 20% increase in violent crime and a 11% rise in property crime in 2015, current figures pale in comparison to the bad old days of the mid-’90s.
Numerous elements seem to be contributing to the rise in Downtown crime. The situation here mirrors a nationwide crime increase, and experts have not been able to pinpoint reasons for the trend à la the widespread crack cocaine epidemic of the late ’80s and ’90s. Then there is the fact that thousands of people are moving to Downtown, and they have, well, a lot of stuff — more people in homes, walking the streets and driving cars offers more potential victims.
Local police officials also point to the statewide prison-reform policies AB 109 and Proposition 47, which have reduced jail time and, according to one theory, put more criminals on the street.
Then there’s the homelessness crisis, and while most homeless people do not engage in criminal activity, some do. Plus many of those living on the streets are addicts looking for ways to pay for their next fix, and Downtown, especially Skid Row, has been an historic draw for that activity.
The homeless suffer in other ways, and too often they are victims of crime in Downtown. The lawless nature of some encampments can feed on an exploitative situation.
In other words, there is no one cause of the crime spike, just as there is no single response. That is why, if Downtown is to remain safe, everyone has to help.
It starts on an individual basis, and people need to remember that this is an urban environment that demands different behavior than in the suburbs. People on the street should not flash jewelry and should keep their wallet in a front pocket. Women in restaurants should make sure purses are not slung carelessly over the arm of a chair where they can be lifted with ease. Cyclists need to always secure their tires and frame with a hefty U-lock, and never leave an unlocked bike unattended, even for a few minutes.
Downtown needs more neighborhood watches, and people must often be the eyes and ears of the police. Area inhabitants will know when something looks different or dangerous. Anyone who witnesses a crime in progress should call 911. For less immediate problems, dial 1-877-ASK-LAPD.
Central Division brass must lead, and they must increase foot beats in problem areas, particularly on some streets in the Historic Core. Simply having uniformed officers walking around can be a powerful crime deterrent.
Central should also amp up the outreach via social media, email and regular neighborhood meetings, and should share information on crime trends and what to watch for. People want to help keep their neighborhood safe, but often need the police to lead the way.
Downtown’s rise in crime is serious and needs attention. It has not changed the flavor of the neighborhood, but it can’t be allowed to continue.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2016