Violent crime increased in Long Beach last year, driven by a spike in serious assaults that included an ongoing rise in the number of shootings across the city, where the COVID-19 pandemic continued to touch nearly every aspect of residents’ lives.
Preliminary year-end crime statistics showed a 7.7% jump in violent crime, the Long Beach Police Department said in a statement Monday night. Within that category, aggravated assaults—which are assaults clearly meant to commit serious bodily injury—rose even more sharply, by 11.2%.
Overall, crime remained relatively flat, with a slight decrease in property crime, police said. The LBPD did not provide detailed numbers for these and most other crime categories, saying the statistics are preliminary “and subject to further analysis and revision.” The final numbers, “will be formally announced at a later date,” police said.
Long Beach saw 37 murders in 2021, the same as in 2020, police said.
“While most major cities in our country experienced an increase in murders compared to 2020, the murder rate in Long Beach did not increase,” said newly-elected Chief of Police Wally Hebeish in a statement Monday.
Hebeish credited “the overwhelming efforts of our police officers and professional staff” with averting a rise in killings.
“That being said, every murder is a tragedy and one life lost to violent crime is one too many,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to work with City and community partners to provide public safety while also exploring the fundamental causes of violent crime.”
Despite homicide numbers remaining flat last year, they have risen from the historic lows seen in the city recently. Compared to the five-year average starting in 2016, murder has increased about 19% in Long Beach. Despite this, the number of slayings in Long Beach is only a fraction of what it was in the 1990s when the city could record more than 100 homicides in a year.
For several years prior to 2020, crime in Long Beach had generally been on a downward trajectory. It is nearly impossible to pinpoint any single, overarching reason for the rebound, but experts have pointed to a range of possible contributing factors including economic insecurity, school closures and isolation from the pandemic. Police have also blamed a proliferation of easily accessible ghost guns along with bail and sentencing reforms they say allow repeat offenders to quickly return to the streets after an arrest.
In March 2021, then-Chief of Police Robert Luna also pointed the finger at emergency measures to reduce jail populations during the pandemic meant to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
“Prisons and jails have released large numbers of inmates to reduce the risk of exposure; more repeat offenders are being released on bail; trials and other court proceedings have experienced significant delays; school closures and lack of programming has negatively impacted youth engagement; and, with a record number of gun sales in 2020, there are more guns on the street,” he said.
Police say they worked to take more guns off the streets as shootings in Long Beach spiked during the first half of 2021 and the number of people wounded in those shootings also rose 55% as of July. Shootings have risen sharply since 2019, when the city recorded 222, to 444 in 2021, according to LBPD data.
Overall, gun arrests were up 36% in 2021 as police have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into increased patrols and operations to take illegal weapons off the streets, including a buyback program that gave residents a way to get rid of unwanted firearms in exchange for gift cards.
A buyback event in October resulted in a total of 280 guns being turned in. Police found, however, that the guns being turned in were not necessarily those they were trying to link with shooting cases.
In July, Luna said his officers—including specialized gun seizure teams—were taking an average of about 21 guns per week off the city’s streets.
“I’m telling you right now that if our officers weren’t out there doing that proactive work, I don’t know where our shootings and murder rates would be right now,” Luna said at the time.
In the time since its inception, the LBPD’s specialized Coordinated Response Team seized over 150 firearms. The department as a whole seized 1,057 firearms in 2021, a 37.3% increase from 2020, according to a city statement.
The city says 2021 also ended on a positive note when it comes to gun violence. There were only 26 shooting incidents in December 2021 compared to the 53 reported in December 2020, according to the LBPD.
“While gun violence continues to be at an increased level, it has been substantially reduced over the course of 2021 through the various strategies implemented by the Police Department and supporting departments,” police said in a statement.
Meanwhile, property crime slightly decreased compared to 2020, which police have attributed to a reduction in petty thefts, garage burglaries, commercial burglaries and bike thefts. They said these categories declined 54.1%, 37.1%, 26.8% and 21.9%, respectively.
Grand theft auto, which was not addressed in the city’s end-of-the-year crime statistics, revealed more than a 20% increase from 2,483 in 2020 to 3,054 through November 2021.
Arson also continued its upward trend in 2021, increasing by 25% from 112 in 2020 to 144, according to an analysis of LBPD data through November.
“Moving into 2022, the Long Beach Police Department remains committed to the safety and well-being of all residents and visitors,” the LBPD said in a statement. “The Department understands that public safety is a shared responsibility, and now more than ever, engagement and partnership with the community is critical to reducing crime.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to show police now say there were 37 murders in both 2020 and 2021, not 36 as they previously stated.
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