Despite more killings, Long Beach’s violent crime plunges for first time in 3 years

Even as the number of killings surged after record lows, the amount of violent crime in Long Beach last year plummeted by more than 16 percent, breaking a three-year streak of increases.

There were 30 criminal homicides in Long Beach last year compared to 22 in 2017, the lowest since modern record-keeping began in 1968.

Last year’s total is more in line with other recent years. Long Beach averaged 31 killings from 2012 to 2016, according to statistics from police, a steep drop from the 1980s and ‘90s when the city could see 100 slayings annually.

Overall, crime was down 8.4 percent in 2018 and violent crime cratered to 16.5 percent, according to the LBPD.

“Crime continues to drop in Long Beach, making our city one of the safest big cities in California,” Mayor Robert Garcia said, crediting new technologies and stepped-up efforts in recruiting, including an extra police academy class, with helping drive the declines.

Crime has broadly decreased in recent decades across the country, including in Long Beach, but since 2015, violent crime had been on the rise in the city. That trend reversed in 2018. Though the number of rapes rose 4.4 percent, robberies and aggravated assaults both showed steep drops: 20.9 percent for robberies and 16.6 percent for aggravated assaults. (Aggravated assaults are any assault likely to cause great bodily harm or death. They typically include a weapon.)

Police investigate a shooting after an elderly man walked into a North Long Beach salon and said he'd been shot on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Police investigate after an elderly man walked into a North Long Beach salon and said he’d been shot on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Police originally noticed a spike in aggravated assaults in 2018, but they now believe that was due to an error by staffers misclassifying them, not an actual increase in crime. After reviewing their assault reports for the year, police downgraded 689 aggravated assaults to simple assaults, department spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said.

Had it remained, that number of aggravated assaults would have significantly driven up the violent crime rate. As simple assaults, they weren’t calculated as part of that number. Police say they ended 2018 with 1,366 aggravated assaults compared to 1,637 in 2017.

Police said they believe the misclassification of assaults began in January 2018.

Property crime also dropped 6.4 percent citywide in 2018, according to the LBPD. Some categories, however, showed spikes, including grand theft and bike theft.

“We are constantly looking at best practices and innovative techniques to reduce crimes like these, including the senseless murders,” Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. “I am confident that the partnerships and relationships we have built with our community members, business leaders and law enforcement partners will help us focus on reducing and preventing crime in our community in the future.”

A detailed breakdown of stats is available on the LBPD’s website.

A disparate decline

Although every LBPD patrol division showed an overall reduction in crime, the drop was not spread evenly through the city.

For instance, property crime was essentially flat—dropping just 1.5 percent—in the west patrol division, which covers the Wrigley neighborhood, some of Central Long Beach and most of the area west of the Los Angeles River.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like crime is down,” said Josephine Villaseñor, who started the Wrigley Community Neighborhood Watch in 2015. “I’ve seen people stealing stuff from people’s front lawns, taking things from their garages, their cars, bikes being stolen.”

Villaseñor’s observations are reflected in some of the stats police provided for the west division. In certain categories, property crime rose sharply, with bike thefts essentially doubling and garage burglaries up 154 percent. Auto burglaries also spiked almost 33 percent.

By contrast, in the patrol divisions that cover Downtown and North Long Beach, property crime was down by about 8 percent. In East Long Beach, property crime dropped by 6.7 percent and violent crime plummeted more than 22 percent.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna at a Sept. 4 press conference. File photo.

Villaseñor said her group has theories about why some crime has stayed stubborn in the west division, including bored youngsters, entrenched gangs and criminal-justice reforms that have meant earlier releases for repeat offenders or methamphetamine addicts.

In response, her group has banded together hundreds of volunteers for community patrols that report crimes to police and pass along any notes about suspicious activity.

But parts of the west division can get dicey after sunset, Villaseñor said, especially when walking through West Long Beach’s industrial areas or dark streets near Santa Fe Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway.

“I’m going to be frank,” she said. “Some of my volunteers that do the community watch are afraid sometimes because it’s hard to see.”

The west patrol division also showed the most significant increase in any violent crime category with six more killings and 14 more rapes than the previous year. Villaseñor said police are trying their best, but she wants leaders to acknowledge some stubborn problems in the west division instead of painting an overall rosy picture of crime.

“Wrigley is a wonderful place. We have a wonderful community. We have wonderful shops and businesses, but we do have some stuff that we need to help to take care of,” she said.

Crime also drops nearby

In Los Angeles, violent crime dropped 3.4 percent. Homicides were down even more, 8.2 percent, according to preliminary statistics from the LAPD through Dec. 29.

This was the first time overall violent crime dropped in Los Angeles in five years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

It appears violent crime will also end up down across Los Angeles County in areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department.

As of Nov. 30, it was trailing 5.5 percent lower than last year. Killings, however, were up more than 3 percent, according to data from the department.

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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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