Stabbings on the rise in Los Angeles

Incidents up 25% in the first three months of 2021

Illustration of 3 knives



Since the onset of the pandemic, gunfire in Los Angeles has soared, and from Jan. 1-April 10, the number of shooting victims is up nearly 80% compared with the same time last year. 


Another disturbing trend has not garnered as much attention: In the first three months of 2021, the city recorded 430 incidents in which a suspect cut or stabbed someone. That is a 25% increase compared with the same time last year, according to Los Angeles Police Department data


Stabbings in Los Angeles, Jan.-March, 2021 vs. 2020

Graphic with first quarter stabbing

According to Capt. Paul Vernon, who heads the LAPD Compstat Division, the recent loosening of rules around social distancing might be driving the increase. 


“The rise in the use of knives over the last year can be partly understood in the context of COVID restrictions last year, which tended to drop violent crime in [the first quarter] of 2020,” said Vernon. “So we might expect to see a slight rise this year as COVID restrictions allow more public interaction.”


The rise in stabbings and shootings come even as the city has experienced a nearly 11% drop in overall crime during the first three months of the year. 


There were 1,815 stabbings in 2020, a 4.3% increase over 2019.


Stabbings in Los Angeles, 2020 vs. 2019

Graphic with annual stabbing 

The increased number of stabbings is tightly wound with another deep-seated problem: homelessness. Vernon said approximately one in four stabbings during the first three months of 2021 involved a person experiencing homelessness, and that 56% of the victims were stabbed by another person experiencing homelessness.  


Los Angeles has long wrestled with a homelessness crisis, and before the pandemic began, the city had an estimated 41,000 people experiencing homelessness, according to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count (no count occurred this year due to the pandemic, but many experts believe the number has climbed). One effort to address the situation is a Right to Housing motion authored by City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, and approved by the full panel on March 3. 


Sparked in part by the 1,383 county residents who died last year while experiencing homelessness, it calls for a cadre of city departments and offices to come up with a framework guaranteeing individuals a right to have a roof over their head. 


“When we talk about a ‘Right to Housing,’ we talk about creating a safety net that obligates the government to not only aid Angelenos in transitioning off the streets and into interim and permanent housing, but also to prevent homelessness in the first place,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “Just as we have the right to vote and a right to clean air, every man, woman and child needs a place to call home.”


The issue is also on the forefront following federal Judge David O. Carter’s order on Tuesday for the city and county to provide housing to everyone living on Skid Row in the next six months.


Vernon said few attacks on people experiencing homelessness “are random and unsolicited as a factor of their social condition.” Instead, he said, more often “they become victims in disputes while engaged in at-risk behavior like drinking and drugs.”


How we did it: We examined LAPD data on crimes labeled with the code for “Suspect cut/stabbed” from Jan. 1, 2019-March 31, 2021. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


LAPD data only reflect crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. On occasion, the 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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