A History of Crime in L.A.

Los Angeles, California is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, a port city, and incredibly ethnically diverse. It is within close proximity to the Mexican drug trade, home to the entertainment industry, and has residents across the socio-economic spectrum. Due to these and, a combination of, other factors, Los Angeles has a colorful history of crime, including organized criminal activity, gang wars, riots, and more. It is also important to note that the city has experienced an overall decline in crimes committed in the last several decades, according to the State of California Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General.

Organized Crime

Although Los Angeles is generally acknowledged as a high crimes city, mafia-related crimes had only a fraction of the foothold as they did in other cities, like New York City and Chicago. Having started to gain a presence during prohibition and peaking during the 1950s, Costra Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, spread throughout Southern California and became one of the most prevalent crime organizations in Los Angeles. Notable mafia incidents in Los Angeles include the murder of New York gangster, Bugsy Siegel, and the apprehension of Whitey Bulger of the Boston mob. Other criminal organizations to have gained a foothold in L.A. include the Japanese Yakuza and Russian Mafia.

Gang Crime

There are hundreds of different gangs in Los Angeles. L.A. has more gang activity, homicides, specifically, than any other city in the United States, according to a 2012 report by the CDC; and, while gang activity has decreased since its peak a decade ago, gang violence is a major problem. Many gangs are involved with the drug trade and/or other criminal enterprises. Los Angeles gangs are divided along neighborhood and ethnic lines; this is a common “territory” and assertion of power, regardless of urban area being discussed. It is important to note that in some cases, gang activity and organized crime activity do intersect and feed off one another; these are not always mutually exclusive entities.

Notable Riots

Racial and socio-economic tension in Los Angeles has culminated in riots on many different occasions. As early as the 1800s, racial tension between ethnic groups resulted in violence. More recently, the Watts Riots and LA Riots illustrated the powder-keg result of racial and socio-economic tensions. Los Angeles has also experienced in support or protest of various current events.

  • Chinese Massacre of 1871 A short summary of the racially motivated riot in Los Angeles early history, killing nearly twenty Chinese immigrants.
  • Zoot Suit Riots Examines the Zoot Suit Riots, its portrayal in the media, and international political ramifications.
  • Watts Riots An overview of the Watts Riots and its aftermath.
  • Watts Riots Multimedia A historical look at the Watts riots including audio and video footage.
  • LA Riots An article detailing the violence and crime of the LA Riots.
  • LA Riots- Background Provides a time of line of events and factors leading up to the LA riots.
  • Sunset Strip Riots (PDF) This academic examination of the music culture in the late sixties touches upon the significance of the Sunset Strip Riots.
  • 2009 Lakes Championship Riots – Motion (PDF) Describes the rioting and looting that occurred near the Staples Center following a Lakers Championship victory.
  • Zimmerman Verdict Protests Details the citywide protest in response the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

Notable Crimes/Criminals

Los Angeles has a number of notorious crimes. Some are famous unsolved cases, like the Black Dahlia murder, memorialized by movies and books. Others involved serial killers that kept Los Angeles terrified for months at a time. In recent years, Los Angeles has had several notable criminal cases with intense amounts of national media trial coverage.

Peak of Crime Rates

Los Angeles Crime peaked in the early 1990s; culminating in 1992 with the highest homicide rates on record and the LA riots. The high level of crime during this time period is attributed to the rise of crack cocaine use and distribution, and related gang activity. Gun violence and homicides were at extraordinary high levels, particularly in the economically depressed neighborhoods of South Central.

Declining Crime

Los Angeles saw a decline in violent crime during the last decade. Policy makers debate whether this is due to changes in policing, incarceration laws, or demographic changes in the city. It may also be part of a natural low-crime cycle as other large cities, such as New York and Washington DC have also seen similar changes.

Los Angeles Police Department Controversies

The Los Angeles Police Department has faced a number of controversies over the years; having been involved in a number of controversies centered around accusations of use of excessive force, corruption, and racial discrimination. Federal oversight of the department, sparked by the Rampart scandal, officially ended in early 2013, ushering a new era for the LAPD.

L.A. & Southern California Criminal Defense Resources

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