Crime falls in LA, but not for the homeless

People experiencing homelessness are increasingly victims of violence

Public safety may have improved in the City of Los Angeles last year, but not for homeless people.


The number of reported crimes with homeless victims increased by 26%, to 5,769, last year compared with 2018. Overall crime in the city decreased 5% during the same period, according to data from the Los Angeles Police Department.


The trend underscores just how vulnerable the homeless population is, even as the rest of the city grows relatively safer.



The homeless population in the City of Los Angeles grew by 16% from 2018 to 2019, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual count. The rising number of people experiencing homelessness is one reason behind the crime increase, said Commander Donald Graham, the LAPD’s homeless coordinator. Anyone who is homeless, he said, becomes “ultra vulnerable to being a victim of crime.” He added, “The already tremendous stress – teetering on edge of mental illness – makes them incredibly timid, and unfortunately easier to victimize or prey upon.” 


Advocates for the homeless say that a sometimes confrontational approach from city officials and the larger community could also be contributing to increased crime. Last September, the Los Angeles City Council walked back a proposal to restrict where homeless people could sleep.


There have also been a few high-profile instances of vigilante crime against homeless people in LA; however, Graham said he does not believe that was a significant factor in the increase. 


Four of the top crimes involving homeless victims were violent, ranging from assault with a deadly weapon to domestic violence, illustrating the danger the homeless population faces on a daily basis.


Offenses involving homeless suspects in crimes rose 21% from 2018 to 2019, while incidents involving both a homeless victim and suspect almost doubled.



Last year’s increases are part of a decade-long rise in homeless-related crime. Crimes against homeless victims rose 17-fold between 2010 to 2019. The number of crimes in which the suspect was listed as homeless are 26 times greater than they were in 2010. Offenses involving both homeless victims and suspects saw the most dramatic increase, rising 31-fold over the last decade.



Local governments across California have been struggling to deal with the statewide housing shortage. Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted his entire State of the State address to discussing homelessness, with a plan to expand funding for housing and cut the red-tape bureaucracy delaying housing construction.


How we did it: We examined publicly available LAPD data on reported crimes involving homeless victims and homeless suspects, as well as crimes involving both homeless victims and suspects. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.


LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on data the LAPD makes publicly available. The LAPD does periodically update past crime reports with new information, which sometimes leads them to recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database. We try to update our reporting when new data becomes available.


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