The Detective: More lasers in the night sky


Illustration of a pilot seeing a laser



Here are some recent anomalies in Los Angeles Police Department data found by the Detective, our data-crawling robot, and aggregated by the robot’s human assistant, Catherine Orihuela. This period covers Jan. 18-Jan. 24, 2021. 


?  On Jan. 24, the community of Winnetka recorded 13 criminal incidents, its highest daily number of crimes since June 2019. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the reports included vehicle break-ins, intimate partner violence and one case involving verbal threats against a 64-year-old woman. Additionally, a 23-year-old man was attacked with a knife while on a bus. According to police reports, none of the incidents have resulted in arrests.


?  The Detective flagged another incident involving impersonation, this one in West Hills on Jan. 20. According to police, an unidentified individual was found roaming around a home construction site, pretending to be a contractor. When discovered and confronted, the suspect threw an unspecified object at a 49-year-old man, then fled the scene. 


The code for “suspect impersonates contractor” has been used 38 times since 2014. The January incident is only the third reported in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood, following one in 2015 and another in 2020. 


?  On Jan. 18, police responded to an unusual incident in Montecito Heights. A suspect, who according to the LAPD was identified as a priest or pastor, approached a 25-year-old man at a mini-mart. Details are thin, but during the encounter the man was shot and killed. The incident was described by police as gang-related. No arrest has been made. There was no indication as to whether the suspect is actually a member of the clergy. 


Since 2010, the code for “suspect is/was a priest/pastor” has been used 77 times. There have only been two other reported incidents of criminal homicide in which a priest was the suspect, both of which occurred in August 2011. 


The Detective flagged yet another incident involving laser pointers, with two cases reported in Reseda on Jan. 24. According to the LAPD, someone was pointing a laser at planes while sitting in a parked car on a residential street. When police arrived on scene, the individual attacked the officers. Since 2012, the code for “suspect points laser at plane/helicopter” has been used 63 times, and Crosstown reported similar incidents in December. There has only been one other reported laser incident in Reseda; it occurred in 2017. 


How we did it: At Crosstown, we examine publicly available crime data from multiple Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies. We have a robot on the team called the Detective that scans the LAPD publicly available data for anomalies. LAPD officers tag most crime reports in their system with MO codes, for “modus operandi,” Latin for operating method or style. The MO codes are shorthand for describing what happened in a crime incident. 


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