The latest homicide figures in Los Angeles have set off a shriek-a-thon that is weird and seems to me fed by 24-hour-news culture, which is dangerous because it is utterly devoid of context.
I believe in police accountability, smart deployment of officers and using Big Data to analyze crime trends and respond to them. I also believe it is important to hold elected officials accountable on how city resources are used and deployed.
But as citizens, we too have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We are duty-bound to get a grip, seek context, not start shrieking for shrieking’s sake.
By using only rates of increase, those who talk about this latest “surge” in crime are avoiding context.
And here it is: The city has had 185 homicides in eight-plus months – an average of about 24 a month. It’s unlikely to maintain that pace, as August almost always registers the highest numbers of homicides and adds briefly to the statistical average. But even if it does, the city will still tally fewer or roughly equal to the number of homicides of any year this century.
In fact, the LA homicide figures this year will almost certainly be below any yearly figure since the 1960s.
That is not to say that LAPD doesn’t need to readjust its force deployment. I’m not a police commander, but if one month shows that kind of increase (41 homicides in August), stands to reason it would require a reassessment.
Nor do I say this to play down what it means to have homicides in one’s neighborhood. I’ve covered more homicides than almost any reporter I know, and I understand more deeply than most, I believe, what they do to a family, and to a neighborhood, to a city. So I do not say this to make light of what’s happened in parts of L.A.
But we too have a duty, a responsibility, to remain sane, to appreciate the stunningly positive story of what has happened to crime in Southern California (and gangs above all), to not start shrieking over every little statistical increase.
And above all, to use context. Context. As a journalist, I can say that without it you are lost.