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Brazen crimes rock LA, leaving town at a crossroads

Burglar teams publicly smash Los Angeles’ most exclusive stores. Thieves who follow their victims, including a “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star and a BET host, to their homes. And this week, the fatal shooting of Jacqueline Avant, 81, the admired philanthropist and wife of music legend Clarence Avant, in her Beverly Hills home.

After two years of increasing violent crime in Los Angeles, these incidents sparked a national conversation and raised local concerns about both the crimes themselves and the outcome of the outrage over the violence.

“The fact that this happened, that she was shot and killed in her own home, after giving, sharing and caring for 81 years shook the laws of the Universe,” Oprah Winfrey said, expressing her grief in the face of Avant’s murder. million followers on Twitter. “The world is upside down.”

While overall crime rates in cities remain well below the records set during the notorious gang wars of the 1990s, violent crime has risen sharply in Los Angeles, as in other cities. Much of the violence has occurred in poor communities and among vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, and receives little attention.

However, since the onset of the pandemic and more rapidly in recent months, crime has infiltrated the wealthier enclaves and made its way into the center of public discourse in Los Angeles – against a backdrop of COVID-19 angst, evolving in political perceptions of what role police and prosecutors should play in society and, now, a holiday season that physical retailers rely on to stay afloat.

Some wonder if this could be a turning point for California, which has been at the center of the criminal justice reform movement for decades, overturning tough sentencing laws and reducing the prison population.

The 2020 polls showed California voters broadly support many of these measures, and San Francisco and Los Angeles have elected district attorneys with strong reform agendas. However, those worried about crime and those who think liberal policies have helped it rise have been heard louder.

It is a discourse defined by glaring differences of opinion and, at times, a gaping disconnection between the perception of local crime and the reality on the ground.

Dominick DeLuca, owner of Brooklyn Projects skateboard store on Melrose Avenue, a mall that has seen break-ins and thefts increase sharply in recent months, said things had gotten so bad he carried a gun to work – and desperately wanted to step up law enforcement. .

“I have never seen anything like it,” he said. “In the past two years, I have been robbed three times.”

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department chief Michel Moore said more offenders should be locked up and questioned pandemic-related policies that allowed many non-violent arrests to be released without bail.

Moore said arrests were made in connection with several high-profile “smash-and-grab” heists, but lamented that the suspects were all released pending trial. Garcetti said putting criminals in jails without rehabilitating them is not a solution, but it is also not giving way to repeat offenders.

Dist. from Los Angeles County. Atty. George Gascón, whose progressive prosecution and conviction policies are responsible for the upsurge in crime, was notably absent at the press conference, but said through his office that he was working closely with the partners in charge. law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable for these brazen crimes.

The heightened rhetoric marks a break with the language shared by many of the same officials last year, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. This has raised alarms among activists who have led protests, want to see progressive justice measures passed and hear echoes of past eras where they believe over-mediation of crime has led to over-surveillance and incarceration. excessive.

“They’re trying to push us back,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. “We don’t want to back down; we want to move forward.

Abdullah called Avant’s murder “gruesome and appalling” and said Black Lives Matter was mourning with his family. But she said officials should not be allowed to use Avant’s death or a recent property crime to push for more police, a cash bond or other harsh measures against the crime. crime which she says turned out not to work.

“We need to think about what kind of economic desperation is really creating property crimes and how to get people out of this state,” Abdullah said. “How to create liveable paid jobs? How to create affordable housing?

Abdullah also warned against accepting allegations of crimes that may have no basis in reality – which, in this case, is something police have warned against in recent days, so that concerns about crime trends have intensified.

For example, while ‘follow home’ and ‘smash-and-grab’ trends in Los Angeles, including the rise in thefts in hallways like Melrose Avenue, have raised concerns, they are not indicative of an increase in city-wide property crime.

According to LAPD data through November 27, property crime is up 2.6% this year from the same period last year, but down 6.6% from 2019. Robberies are up 3.9% from last year but down 13.6% from 2019. Burglaries are down 8.4% from last year and into 7.7% decrease from 2019. Auto theft is a notable outlier, up almost 53% from 2019.

Violent crime is of greater concern. Homicides are up 46.7% from 2019, while shooting victims are up 51.4%, according to police data. By the end of November, there had been 359 homicides in Los Angeles in 2021, compared to 355 for the whole of 2020. There have been no more homicides in a year since 2008, which ended with 384.

In Beverly Hills, police point out that crime is rare, and murders like the one before even more so. Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said despite recent incidents, Beverly Hills remains one of the safest cities in the country.

Crime in Beverly Hills this year was down 2% at the end of October. Violent crime in the past two years has increased 23% from the previous two years, but the total number of such crimes remains tiny: there were only five thefts in the city in October and homicides are rare .

It’s unclear what reforms, if any, concerns about crime in the Los Angeles area will lead to – if any.

A spike in crime in the 1990s led California to adopt policies that toughened sentences and increased incarceration. The reform movement was a recognition that these policies went too far and caused their own injustices. A poll of LA voters released this week showed that public safety is seen as a less pressing issue than homelessness, housing affordability, traffic, climate change and air quality.

Jonathan Simon, professor of criminal justice at UC Berkeley School of Law and author of “Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear,” said it is unlikely that the problems of crime completely derail progressive criminal justice. reform movement that began with the murder of Floyd.

However, such concern could slow down these reforms, he said – showing once again “how powerful the political value of crime is” and how quickly politicians and others can revert to a “repressive mentality”. “.

“It’s been a powerful trope now for 40 years,” said Simon.

At Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills on Friday, a handful of child care providers gathered for lunch. One woman said she moved her walking schedule earlier each day to feel safer.

Norma Guzman, who worked for two decades as a babysitter in various parts of Los Angeles, said Beverly Hills does not compare to other areas in terms of crime counts.

“If I hadn’t watched TV I don’t think I would have noticed the area was more dangerous,” she said. “I don’t think it is.”

But Janette Waight, a nurse who worked in Beverly Hills for seven years and walked through Roxbury Park with her boss’s den, felt a different feeling.

“Over the past few years this area has become more and more dangerous,” Waight said. “It’s not just the crime; it’s homelessness, and it’s just the desire of people to look for money quickly rather than to work.

Ruben Urcis, 90, a 42-year-old Beverly Hills resident who walks the Beverly Gardens Park walkway twice a day, said he was not disturbed by the recent spate of high-profile crimes that he he did not consider it a novelty.

“People might notice it, but it’s happened before,” he said, noting that his wife was robbed at gunpoint from a white gold Rolex a few years ago. more than ten years in front of their garage. Now she wears a “standard worthless wristwatch,” he added.

Urcis said the difference to crime now is that it happens in public places and is recorded on camera for everyone to see.

“People in this community don’t feel safe,” he said, “but it has been going on for a long time. “

Pete Nichols, co-founder of community group Melrose Action, said Thursday’s press conference offered few concrete solutions – one of the reasons the Melrose retail community isn’t waiting for City Hall or the LAPD are tackling crime for them. Instead, local traders are trying to get cameras that read license plates to help police identify burglars crossing the area.

Many shopkeepers and local employees saw the August murder of Shoe Palace employee Jayren Bradford, 26, outside the store as a tipping point, Nichols said, and donated funds for the cameras.

“It’s a really horrible situation,” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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