Crime across Los Angeles fell for the second year in a row in 2019, city leaders said Wednesday, but some of the numbers were called in to question as internal affairs investigators review hundreds of field reports submitted by officers accused of portraying innocent people as gang members.
The field reports are being looked at as part of a wide-ranging investigation into at least 20 officers of the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Metropolitan Division, who were accused earlier this month of purposely falsifying data about people they stopped and inputting them into the state’s CalGang database.
LAPD revealed the investigation on Jan. 6, saying that the officers had all been placed on inactive duty or removed from the field while the review continued. Some could face criminal charges, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said.
The review began in early 2019 after the mother of a Latino man labelled as a gang member complained to a police supervisor in the Van Nuys area. The supervisor reviewed field interview cards identifying the man, and found they contained false information.
Police have not said how many people may have been swept up in the false data reports. Moore said Wednesday that internal affairs was looking at “hundreds, hundreds” of the officers’ field reports.
“There’s many instances where the information we’ve looked at is accurate and complete,” he said.
“Nonetheless, this is a cleaning,” Moore said, sweeping his hand over a piece of paper. “We’re going through the entire list.”
The expanding scope of the internal review comes as both Moore and Mayor Eric Garcetti touted the city’s falling crime rate. Speaking at LAPD’s downtown headquarters on Wednesday, the chief of police and mayor said the city saw its lowest homicide rate in more than 40 years.
There were 253 homicides in the city in 2019, seven fewer than the year before and the second lowest total number since 1966, when there were 226 homicides. Last year’s homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 people was the city’s lowest since 1962.
The most serious crimes — murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, etc. — dropped 7 percent year-over year, officials said, continuing a two-year drop in these types of crimes in Los Angeles.
All violent crimes fell by 5.5 percent. Citywide property crimes fell by 7.4 percent.
Moore said most of the city’s homicides last year were gang-related killings, and he credited the lower number of murders and deadly shootings by gang members to the city’s stepped-up crime prevention efforts.
Garcetti on Wednesday boosted two of those programs, the city’s Community Safety Partnerships and his own office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development.
The CSPs embed LAPD officers in some of the most dangerous public housing projects in the city, while GRYD established zones across L.A. where the city can direct both funding and extra support to residents. Both work directly with people to attempt to resolve gang dispute before they happen.
“This is a comprehensive strategy to continue to improve this drop (in crime),” Garcetti said. “We’re going to continue to engage communities more aggressively.”
Fallout from the Metropolitan Division scandal, however, risks undoing that work, community activists and local experts said.
In a statement shortly after the investigation was revealed, several activist groups in South Los Angeles said they wanted LAPD to pull Metropolitan Division officers out of the area altogether.
Chief Moore should “take the steps toward eradicating (the Metro Division) entirely for this corruption and past division-wide racist policing,” the activists, from groups including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the Community Coalition, said in the statement. “There additionally needs to be serious consideration to ending the gang database.”
CalGang, established in 1987, is a statewide database with names of people local police have labelled as gang members. The data has been found to be fraught with errors. The ACLU for years, citing what they said were numerous civil rights violations, has called for an overhaul of the database.
Garcetti and Moore said Wednesday there was no plan for the city to stop using CalGang. “This system is working,” Moore said.
Jorja Leap, a researcher at UCLA who for years has studied the city’s gang intervention programs, was present Monday when Moore met with residents in South L.A. He was there to explain the gang data discrepancies and explain what the department’s next steps were.
No one protested or disrupted Moore. But for LAPD, given its history of brutality in the area, maintaining credibility with South L.A. residents was like threading a needle, Leap said.
“Many residents still don’t trust LAPD,” she said. “This seems to confirm their worst feelings.”