The recent murders of three people experiencing homelessness shook Los Angeles. News of the deaths spread quickly, as did the Saturday announcement that 33-year-old Jerrid Joseph Powell had been arrested on suspicion of committing the crimes.
The homicides, which Police Chief Michel Moore called “senseless and brutal,” are a reminder of how dangerous life on the streets is for a vulnerable population. But the spate of killings overshadows a significant development: The city is on pace to record the lowest annual number of unhoused murder victims since before the pandemic.
According to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data, from Jan. 1–Nov. 30, 51 people experiencing homelessness in the city were killed. The count was above 90 in each of the last two full years.
The decline hardly brings a sense of relief, and current figures are many times higher than they were in the past. In 2014, four people experiencing homelessness were killed in the city. In 2017 the toll was 28 victims.
According to police data, eight unhoused individuals were killed in November; the same number as in October. No period was more dangerous than the summer of 2022: There were 11 homicides that July, and 14 in August.
The decline in deaths among the unhoused population outpaces the already sizable 18% citywide decrease in homicides. Through Nov. 25, there had been 295 murders, according to LAPD Compstat data. This is down from 360 in the same period last year.
People experiencing homelessness face myriad threats. In 2021, 2,201 unhoused individuals died of all causes in Los Angeles County, according to a report the County Department of Public Health released this May. That was up from 1,289 deaths in 2019. Much of the increase has been attributed to a rise in the use of fentanyl.
Indeed, in 2021 (the latest full year for which figures are available), 1,189 people experiencing homelessness in the county died from an overdose of fentanyl, other drugs or alcohol, according to the report. That is more than double the 579 overdose deaths two years before.
In 2021, the report stated, there were 200 murders of people experiencing homelessness across the county. That made homicide the fourth-leading cause of death, after overdoses, coronary heart disease, and traffic collisions and other transportation-related fatalities.
The District Attorney’s office on Monday charged Powell with four counts of murder, including one allegedly committed during a follow-home robbery. The three unhoused people Powell is accused of killing were shot to death in different neighborhoods: According to police, Jose Bolanos was murdered in the early morning hours of Nov. 26 in South Los Angeles, and Mark Diggs was killed the next day in Downtown. Shawn Alvarez was shot Nov. 29 in Lincoln Heights. A gun belonging to Powell, recovered by police after a traffic stop in Beverly Hills, has been linked to those crimes.
Many male victims
Downtown, which includes Skid Row, has been the site of 10 homicides of unhoused individuals this year, more than any other neighborhood in the city. The next highest counts are the six killings in Boyle Heights and the five in Westlake.
As is the case with homicides in general, unhoused men represent the vast majority of those killed. According to police data, 45 of the homeless victims this year were male. Just 12% were female.
According to the LAPD’s 2022 homicide report, published in March, 64% of the murders involving a person experiencing homelessness last year were cleared, meaning police either arrested a suspect or solved the case. The citywide clearance rate was 75%.
Of the 47 killings where a motive was identified in 2022, 30 involved a dispute or revenge. Another 13 were attributed to gangs.
Of the homicides of unhoused individuals this year, 61% have involved a firearm, with the next most frequent weapon being a knife or sharp object (the weapon is unknown in 22% of the deaths).
According to police data, the youngest unhoused victim this year was a 19-year-old Latino man who was shot to death on June 12 at the corner of Grand Avenue and 83rd Street in the neighborhood of Florence.
The oldest victims were three men, killed in separate instances, who were each 65. They include a Black man who was shot in a Koreatown parking lot at Vermont Avenue and Sixth Street on Feb. 23. An arrest was made.
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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