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.
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.
- 2010 Organized Crime Report (PDF) A detailed report produced by the California Attorney General’s office discusses the number of traditional Mafia members left in Los Angeles.
- Mickey Cohen Newspaper Coverage A 1949 newspaper covering Mickey Cohen, a prominent member of the Jewish Mafia during the Los Angeles Mafia’s peak years.
- Bugsy Siegel Profile A profile of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his murder in Beverly Hills, CA.
- Capture of Whitey Bulger A compelling recounting of the events leading up to Whitey Bulger’s capture in Santa Monica, CA.
- Armenian & Russian Organized Crime Groups A brief explanation of the Russian Mafia’s organization and ties to Armenian organized crime groups in Los Angeles.
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.
- History of Gangs in the United States A scholarly examination of the history of gangs in the United States, including Los Angeles gangs.
- Salvadoran Gangs Transfer to US An informative page that explains the impact of El Salvador’s civil war on Salvadoran gangs in Los Angeles
- History of LA Bloods and Crips A detailed look at the rise of LA’s most famous gangs, the Bloods and Crips
- Gang Girls Covers the role of unique role of women in gang culture
- Young Gang Members and Risky Behavior (PDF) An academic analysis of criminal and other dangerous behavior undertaken by juveniles in gangs.
- LA Gang Fact Sheet A quick summary of fact and fiction about Los Angeles gangs
- Official LAPD Gang Information Resources A thorough and informative breakdown of gangs and gang activity in Los Angeles.
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.
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.
- OJ Simpson Trial Details the famous OJ Simpson case and trial
- Richard Ramirez – “Night Stalker” (PDF) A detailed timeline of Ramirez’s crimes as the Night Stalker serial killer
- Charles Manson An examination of Charles Manson, the killer behind the Manson Family Murders
- Robert F. Kennedy Assassination The audio broadcast of Robert F. Kennedy’s interview from the moments before his assassination at the Ambassador Hotel.
- Black Dahlia Murder Analyzes the public fascination with the victim of the Black Dahlia murder
Menendez Brothers Newspaper coverage of the Menedez Brothers’ highly publicized murder trial.
- Hillside Strangler Details the capture of the Hillside Strangler, responsible for four strangling murders in the late seventies.
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.
- The Rise in Crime in California A historic look at the perceptions of rising crime in Los Angeles as early as the 1950s.
- Correlation between Liquor Stores and Crime Rates (PDF) Examines the correlation between liquor stores, economically depressed neighborhoods, and high crime rates.
- Crack Cocaine and Rising Youth Gang Violence in the 1980’s (PDF) An in-depth explanation of the crack cocaine trade and resulting gang violence
- Los Angeles Homicide Patterns 1981-2001 Considers the connections between gang activity and increased homicide rates within different demographics
- Arrest Profile of Los Angeles Riot of 1992 A look at the statistics of individuals involved in the LA riots and the types of crimes committed.
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.
- LA Homicide Hits 40 Year Low A brief article about the large drop in homicides in Los Angeles in recent years.
Decline of Crime in California Illustrates the decline of crime in California across all categories, showing long-term trends
- Decline in Juvenile Crimes (PDF) An depth look at the changing statistics of juvenile crimes in California, showing declines in various categories.
- Declining Crime Rates in Malibu Explains the recent decrease of property crime in Malibu.
- LA County Sherriff’s Crime Statistics 1960-2012 A long-range look at crime statistics in Los Angeles County
- Crime Decline: Trends and Strategies Discusses national trends in declining crime and effective strategies for future challenges.
- Understanding the Crime Decline (PDF) An academic examination of the most common supposed reasons for the decline in crime in the last decade.
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.
- Police Trials in Rodney King Case A descriptive look at the police trials in the Rodney King case and its aftermath
- Rampart Scandal Timeline A brief timeline explaining the Rampart scandal
- Cause of the Rampart Scandal (PDF) A thorough examination of the causes of the Rampart scandal and possible preventative measures moving forward.
- Racial Profiling by the LAPD An Op-Ed piece using data to analyze the LAPD’s use of racial profiling
- The LAPD and Excessive Force A compilation of investigative and official reports studying excessive force in the Los Angeles Police Department