Crime is on the menu at Los Angeles restaurants

Establishments see more incidents as pandemic restrictions are relaxed

Illustration of a vandalized restaurant


Restaurant owners across Los Angeles are embracing the return of customers and are eagerly anticipating the full reopening of the California economy, scheduled for June 15. But some operators have already seen an unwanted sign of people leaving their homes: burglary, vandalism and other crimes. 


There were 187 crimes at restaurants reported to police in April, up from 160 in March and 142 in February, according to Los Angeles Police Department data


Figures from January-March are far lower than they were in the same time in 2020, which is not surprising considering that most establishments were operating until the middle of last March. Overall crime in Los Angeles from Jan. 1-April 30 this year is 5.5% below the same period in 2020.


Crime reports at Los Angeles restaurants, Jan.-April, 2021 vs. 2020

Bar chart with overall crime at local restaurants

Lilly Rocha, executive director of the Latino Restaurant Association, which educates and advocates for restaurateurs and small business owners, said she was surprised to learn about the increase in crime, but was aware of many restaurants being targeted for “dine and dash” schemes which hurt small businesses. 


After a rough year for restaurants that included extended shutdowns and layoffs, the increase in crime as businesses reopen is “crazy,” said Rocha.


According to police data, bodily force was used in 17% of restaurant crimes reported from Feb. 1-April 30 (the period when incidents began rising). There were 61 instances of assault and vandalism. 


The most frequent neighborhood for restaurant crime this year is Downtown, where 43 incidents have been reported. The dense community also has perhaps the largest restaurant roster in the city.


An employee of a restaurant at L.A. Live in Downtown, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the establishment has experienced burglary and vandalism in the last three months, and that the issue is a concern for workers as a full reopening approaches.


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In particular, burglaries at restaurants have been increasing, going from 31 incidents in February to 41 in April. Burglaries accounted for 20% of all crime reported at Los Angeles restaurants from Feb. 1-April 30. 


Although most restaurants in Los Angeles were forced to halt in-person service for much of 2020, burglaries never ceased, perhaps reflecting opportunistic thieves who took advantage of the lack of customers. In January 2020 there were 43 restaurant burglaries, followed by 30 the next month and 48 in March. There were 49 burglaries in April, the first full month of the shutdown, and at least 34 every month during the rest of the year.  


Burglaries at Los Angeles restaurants, Jan.-April, 2021 vs. 2020

Bar chart with burglaries at local restaurants

Rocha said her organization is focused on helping restaurant owners “get back to business” by assisting with applications to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a program launched by President Biden as part of the American Rescue Plan. Applications opened on May 3.


“Our restaurants have been battered and people are wondering if they are going to be able to survive,” she said. “Most of the security measures in place are around COVID and taking that seriously.”


How we did it: We examined crime data from the  Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021. 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 the data the LAPD makes publicly available. 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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