Overall crime dropped again, but rape and murder rose in Long Beach last year

For the second year in a row, police say crime in Long Beach has broadly declined even while some of the most serious categories continue to rise.

Despite more rapes and criminal homicides, violent crime fell 8% and property crime dropped 4.3% in 2019, according to numbers released by the Long Beach Police Department Monday.

Over the last year, police said they dedicated more officers to enforcing quality-of-life laws and dealing with issues related to homelessness and mental health. They also spent more time taking guns from people who shouldn’t have them, overall seizing 1,030 firearms, a 16% increase from 2018.

“Overall crime totals continue to decrease and that is largely due to the work both sworn and civilian employees accomplish every single day,” LBPD Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. “However, there is still more work to be done to further reduce crime in our City. It is unacceptable that innocent people are impacted by senseless criminal activity.”

Police said 21 fewer robberies and a 16.8% drop in serious assaults drove down the 2019 violent crime rate.

However, the number of criminal homicides in Long Beach has been on the upswing since hitting a record low in 2017.

LBPD Chief Robert Luna with Mayor Robert Garcia (left). File photo.

LBPD Chief Robert Luna with Mayor Robert Garcia (left). File photo.

There were 34 such killings last year compared to 30 in 2018 and 22 in 2017, which was the fewest since modern record keeping began.

A large portion of the slayings in 2019, 44%, were connected to gang violence, police said, and another 12% were driven by domestic violence.

Thirty-four criminal homicides remains firmly below the amount seen in the 1980s or ‘90s when Long Beach could have up to 100 in one year.

The criminal homicide statistic reported by the LBPD and other departments does not include all killings. The category, which is defined by the FBI, doesn’t track things like justified homicides in self defense and traffic deaths.

For instance, the suspected DUI crash on Halloween that claimed the lives of two Long Beach parents and their 3-year-old son is not included in the LBPD’s count despite the fact that the driver has been charged with murder, a department spokeswoman said.

Reports of rape also rose in 2019. There were 251 total, an increase of 17.8%. Rape reports have been rising incrementally since 2015, averaging 198 reports each year, according to the LBPD.

It is a historically underreported crime, LBPD Lt. Greg Schirmer told the Long Beach Post in May after a 40.7% spike in reports in the first quarter of 2019.

Sexual assault victim advocates suspect the sharp increase has been spurred by awareness of what constitutes rape and the resources available to victims through police and advocacy groups, likely fueled by the #MeToo movement.

Long Beach police said a vast majority of the rapes reported locally were perpetrated by known suspects, not strangers.

Property crime is down, but arson spikes

Overall, most top-line categories of property crime dropped or remained nearly flat when looked at from a citywide perspective.

Residential burglaries, garage burglaries and bike theft all saw reported declines of more than 10%, police said.

Those drops, however, may not be universally felt.

For instance, even though reports of garage burglaries fell citywide by almost 12%, they rose by almost 15% when looking at only the western portion of Long Beach.

A safe sits outside a credit union that was broken into, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo by Jeremiah Dobruck.

A safe sits outside a credit union that was broken into, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo by Jeremiah Dobruck.

Auto theft across the city remained essentially flat, and the number of grand thefts reported rose 2%, according to police.

One outlier was commercial burglaries, which rose 11.2% citywide. In the northern portion of the city, that jump was even more pronounced, with a 21.8% spike.

Arson, too, bucked the trend of declines. There were 113 arsons reported in 2019 compared to 90 in 2018, police said. A spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department couldn’t give a definitive reason those numbers were up, but he noted that they saw a small uptick in “spree arson.”

East Long Beach saw the largest leap in arson incidents: from 19 in 2018 to 35 in 2019.

“In 2019, in one night, a suspect set four fires in El Dorado (Park) and then proceeded to travel west along Willow Street and set three more fires,” LBFD Capt. Matt Dobberpuhl said. “That’s seven fires set by one individual in one evening.”

In these cases, each fire counts as one instance of arson in crime statistics, he said. Counting arsons can be confusing because an “undetermined” fire could be arson, but authorities may not have enough witnesses or evidence to prove it, according to Dobberpuhl.

Long Beach not alone in declines

The statistics released Monday were not a comprehensive count of all crime in Long Beach, but they provided a uniform listing of the most serious crimes as defined by the FBI to provide a common benchmark for comparison year-over-year and city-to-city.

“Crime continues to drop in Long Beach,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “Over the last few years, we’ve continued to make investments in our Police Department, supported the use of new technology, and have made neighborhoods safer. I’m proud of the men and women of the LBPD, and their commitment to making Long Beach one of the safest big cities in America.”

By comparison, Irvine—a city of about 288,000 people that perennially claims the title of safest big city—saw zero criminal homicides, 40 rapes, 53 robberies and 67 serious assaults in 2018.

The city of Los Angeles—which has roughly four million residents—also saw overall declines in crime in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times, with 252 homicides as of Dec. 21 and a 22.6% drop in rapes.

For all the numbers released Monday by the LBPD, see the department’s website.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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