Three years ago, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to make it easier to report a crime. Instead of flagging down a cop or showing up at a station, residents could file a complaint online.
The reason is because people “expect the ability to do everything from banking to video streaming from their computer or smartphone,” said LAPD spokesperson Norma Eisenman. “We are striving to provide access to our police services from those same platforms.”
Its first steps were tentative: Only reports for harassing phone calls and lost property could be reported online. Last year, it expanded the service to include reports of theft and theft from vehicles, two of the most common crimes in the city. This year, it allowed people to report minor hit-and-run incidents as well.
Three years later, the reviews are in, and they are not good.
“Before you even get this far to talk about how this works, the system fails because it was not properly advertised,” said Kari Garcia, coordinator of the Miracle Mile Neighborhood Watch. “I’ve never heard of it working or not working. There’s no point in having a good tool when people don’t know about that tool.”
Despite the frustrations, the number of reports being filed online has been rising steadily, in part because the LAPD has expanded the number of crimes that can be reported over its portal. It received 211 online reports in the first week of August this year, compared with 82 a year ago. On average, about 140 police reports were filed online each week from July 30, 2018 to Aug. 3, 2019, according to data provided by the LAPD. That represents just a tiny fraction of all the reports that come into the LAPD.
According to data from the LAPD, vandalism incidents reported through the online system in the first seven months in 2019 accounted for 3.6% of all vandalism recorded during the same period.
In order to make an online report, the crime cannot involve any injuries, firearms or have a known suspect. The crime also cannot have occurred on a state highway. For help with technical issues, users are referred to an email address. No phone number is available.
Zhang ordered a $600 Dyson airwrap styler online last October. After the package disappeared – despite UPS’s saying it had been delivered – she went to the LAPD’s online portal to report the theft. But the fact that the package was stolen from a private building, instead of a “publicly accessible location,” blocked her from being able to submit the online report.
“I had to drive through the horrible traffic to the police department, wait in line, and then report the case in person and describe the whole thing again,” she said.
Zhang finally got her refund from the company after two months and several lengthy phone calls with Dyson.
“We can’t comment on each individual’s experience,” said LAPD Commercial Crimes Detective Fernando Prieto. “Filing reports online is a relatively new feature, and we’re working on making it more user-friendly.”
The most commonly reported incidents submitted through the online system in the last year were theft from vehicle and petty theft. Together, the two account for nearly half of all reports filed online.
In the first seven months of the year, 5,043 police reports were filed online. Almost half of them went to the West Bureau (2,203), which includes neighborhoods from Hollywood to Venice to Pacific Palisades. The Central Bureau, which covers the area from Griffith Park to the city’s eastern boundary and south to Florence, came in second with 1,600 reports.
Though using the online portal can be frustrating, filing a report the old fashion way is no picnic either. Briana Adams recalls scratching her head to find the right police station to call two years ago when her 2016 Honda Civic was stolen from the parking structure of her Koreatown apartment.
“I remember trying to Google it, then having to get connected to the correct police station because I couldn’t find it,” said Adams. “A detective was also supposed to follow up with me, but one never did.”
Detectives found her car in Sun Valley a year and a half later.
“I don’t know if the case was ever solved, because they didn’t catch the guys who stole it, to my knowledge,” she said.
Still, Adams said she felt more secure having filed the report in person.
“I would feel better knowing for sure that someone was viewing the report versus online where you really don’t know if it’s getting read or not,” she said.
Incidents reported online are reviewed about once every 24 hours, according to the LAPD website for community online reporting service.
How we did it: We analyzed 53 of LAPD’s weekly summaries of its community online reporting service from July 30, 2018 to Aug. 3, 2019, which are obtained through a California Public Records Act request. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.
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