Los Angeles violent crime has declined nearly 7% compared with this time last year, with 1,650 fewer incidents reported as of Sept. 30, according to police statistics. Yet grisly murders and wild police chases still lead nightly TV newscasts. Social media remain flooded with images of youngsters in hoodies streaming out of high-end fashion stores with arms full of stolen merchandise, the Los Angeles Times reports. Historically high-crime police divisions such as Newton, 77th Street, and Hollenbeck have seen double-digit-percentage declines in the number of shooting victims. Criminologists, police officials, and others who study crime caution against reading too much into short-term swings, but the surge in violent crime of recent years has come amid a decades-long downward trend. The statistics may indicate the city is getting safer, but Skipp Townsend, an anti-violence interventionist who works with 2nd Call, an organization that serves former prisoners seeking to reintegrate back into society, sees “a lot of propaganda” on his social media feed about how it’s getting worse. “People been doing smash and grabs, there were just no cameras around to capture it,” he said.
Data alone don’t shape perceptions of safety, says Jorja Leap, a UCLA professor who studies gang culture. Leap said a person’s environment and biases are equal factors. A video of a flash mob burglary or a sideshow taking over an intersection can easily rack up millions of views online, creating the impression that such crimes are happening everywhere, Leap said, a cycle boosted by social media algorithms that promote outrage. The “sensationalization” of high-profile, if statistically rare, crimes has “upped the ante,” said Leap. “People don’t differentiate violent crime from burglaries [and] smash and grabs. Yes, they’re stealing jewelry and designer handbags, but also people aren’t getting killed.” Elections have also fed the current hysteria around crime, Leap said, pointing to last year’s mayoral race and ads from billionaire developer Rick Caruso that painted a dystopian picture of crime and homelessness. Growing lawlessness was a constant theme at the Republican presidential primary debate. Recent Gallup polling has found that partisanship plays a huge role in perceptions of crime and safety, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents far more likely to consider L.A. safe than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.