Arrests in Los Angeles tumbled in the pandemic year

Despite sharp decline, there were racial disparities

Thousands arrested during protests


The number of people the Los Angeles Police Department put in handcuffs in 2020 shrank dramatically compared to the previous year. But the racial disparities of those who were arrested only widened.


There were 57,088 arrests last year, a nearly 37% decrease from the 90,139 arrests in 2019, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. Overall crime in Los Angeles last year fell by approximately 11% amid the coronavirus pandemic. 


Total number of arrests in Los Angeles in 2020 and 2019 

Graphic showing total arrests in 2020 and 2019

Assault made up nearly 22% of the arrests last year, though the total of 12,400 represented a 23.5% decline over the 2019 tally. There were nearly 6,000 arrests for driving under the influence; the approximately 30% fall from the previous year is also likely the result of fewer people driving during the pandemic.


Arrests for violating drug laws declined 47% last year compared with 2019. However, Black people still made up 28% of those arrested, despite accounting for only 8.9% of the city’s population. 


Connie Rice, an attorney who sits on the board of directors of the Advancement Project, and is known for her approaches to tackling inequity, said arrests for drugs are low-hanging fruit. 


“Communities on the right side of the thin blue line get concierge police safety,” Rice said. “Communities on the wrong side of the thin blue line get the harsh war on gangs and drugs that destroy the community.”


Last year, neighborhoods including Boyle Heights, East Hollywood and Historic South-Central all reported 60-69 drug arrests. The more affluent neighborhoods of Beverly Grove, Encino and West Los Angeles each saw fewer than 10 arrests for the same crimes.


“Cops are sent in to suppress poor communities of color,” said Rice, who suggested that police should focus on being better community partners. 


“When you turn cops to a mission of being a partner to help build and heal, you get the kind of policing the folks in, for example, Watts, say they want by turning police away from enforcement to safety,” she said. “Safety is something much bigger and what communities want.”


Rice has been involved in efforts to spark that kind of change. She played a key role in launching the Community Safety Partnership in 2011, in which police officers agree to spend five years patrolling a housing project or other area in the effort to build trust and improve ties with communities that historically have had uneasy relationships with the LAPD. Last summer, Police Chief Michel Moore elevated the program, establishing a Community Safety Partnership Bureau within the department.


Asian people in Los Angeles were arrested 123 times last year, a 65.5% decrease from 2019. There were 8,634 white people arrested last year, a nearly 45% decline from 2019. 


The percentage drops for Black and Hispanic people were comparatively smaller, at nearly 38% and 32%, respectively.  


Arrests of Black, Hispanic and white people in 2020 and 2019


Table showing arrests by ethnicity in 2020 and 2019


That trend seems to be continuing in the new year. In January, white people were arrested 214 times, a nearly 44% decrease over the same month in 2020. Hispanic and Black people saw arrest declines of 23% and 21%, respectively. 


The 4,441 overall arrests last month marked a 24% decline from the 5,881 arrests in January 2020.


How we did it: We examined LAPD publicly available data on arrests from Jan. 1, 2019-Jan. 31, 2021.  For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.


In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. On occasion, LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.


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