Crime is Going Down, but You Wouldn’t Know It from Media Coverage and Campaigns. LA DA Gascón Discusses the Issue and the Challenge It Presents.

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Los Angeles, CA – At a recent candidates’ forum several of the questions asked: “The question I have for you tonight is are we safer now than we were three years ago before the current district attorney took the oath of office?”

One answered, “Do people feel safer now than they did three years ago when Mr. Gascón took control of the district attorney’s office? They do not. I’m glad he wants to stand up here and argue the crime statistics are down. That might be because he has over 13,000 cases sitting on his desk that have not yet been filed.”

But Jeff Asher in his Substack article (December 4 – Americans Are Bad At Perceiving Crime Trends) argues that this is probably not the best measure of performance, in part because “people always think crime is rising” – even when it’s not.

“The problem,” he argues, seems reasonably unique to crime. If you polled Americans on who won the World Series this season you’d probably get mostly right answers, or at least people would be easily able to look it up and provide the correct answer.”

The problem as he points out is that while there is less crime in the US in 2022 than in the 1990s, “it’s much tougher to gauge whether there’s less crime this year than last.”  And the other problem is the nature of media coverage.

“People are often forced to rely on anecdotes for their perceptions of crime trends which means they’re overly reliant on the media and websites like NextDoor,” he argues.  And the problem is because, “There are rarely stories highlighting days where a murder did not occur, only when they add up to an unusual streak does the absence of crime become a media story.”

Further, he points out, “most murders will get anecdotally reported in the media and people are forced to remember whether they heard more anecdotes this year compared to last year. It’s virtually impossible for people to get it right.”

With that said, there is increasingly evidence that not only did Los Angeles fare less bad during the pandemic crime spike when crime went up everywhere, but crime is in fact going down.

Two weeks ago Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass reported on data that found, “Violent crime is down, and Los Angeles has seen a 15 percent decrease in homicides compared to last year.”

We talked with Los Angeles DA George Gascón about this, and he noted, “I think that there is a tremendous disconnect between what people feel about crime and where crime really is. And that has been the case for generations, by the way.”

The challenge he has, is: “It’s hard to convince people with just data.”

Not only that, but if someone feels less safe, you can’t really argue against that.

“You have to acknowledge their feelings because they’re real as to how they feel,” Gascón explained, but at the same time, you have to “come up with some sort of storytelling as to how to shift the narrative.  It is very difficult to do in an environment of such hype political polarization as we currently are experiencing.”

He said, “My opponents understand that.  They’re playing to that.”

But crime is in fact down.

“Not only is the Mayor talking about crime being down, but if you look at the LAPD website, the sheriff’s website, you look around the county, the departments that do report on crime regularly, and the crime numbers are down.”

He said that “we’ve had big reductions in violent crime this year. We started really mid 2022 to see crime started to come down. We still have an issue with car theft and organized retail theft, which are really national problems. They’re not local problems only.”

That’s the other critical factor—Los Angeles is not operating in isolation.

A big story two weeks ago as reported by the NY Times, is the National Retail Federation acknowledged that they had grossly exaggerated the impact of retail theft.

“A national lobbying group has retracted its startling estimate that “organized retail crime” was responsible for nearly half the $94.5 billion in store merchandise that disappeared in 2021, a figure that helped amplify claims that the United States was experiencing a nationwide wave of shoplifting,” the Times reported.

The actual number the Times now says was “likely closer to 5 percent.”

Gascón said, “Recently it was published by the New York Times and the LA Times this weekend more recently, how the numbers that retailer associations are given are actually grossly inaccurate and substantially less. And so the industry also has to step up and be honest with the public and sort of call it for what it is.”

The retail crime story has been distorted along a number of lines to blame not only progressive prosecutors like Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, but also now George Gascón in Los Angeles.

It has also been used to attack Prop. 47.

Sacramento Sheriff Jim Cooper for instance noted, “We’ve talked countless times over the past several years to try and work together to fix the issue of retail theft caused by Prop. 47.”

But once again, the data there is far from clear.  Not only is retail theft a national problem that has at the same time been distorted and exaggerated, California’s laws actually remain among the toughest in the country.

Gascón explained that “the threshold in California is still lower than the majority actually of a lot of the red states.”

He noted for instance, Texas has a $2000 threshold, whereas California’s is 950, a lower limit than 38 other states.

He said that the same thing is happening in Texas, where people say that shoplifters are trying just to not reach the $2000 limit.

“It’s just inaccurate,” he said.  “Thieves are not counting.”

But he added, “The other part is that we actually have legislation that was passed in 2019 that allows the police and prosecutors to prosecute for a felony when you have people that are engaged in the same conduct over a period of time, and the aggregate dollar amount of multiple theft exceeds the $950, which seems to be the complaint of people say, well, they’ll come up to the $950 and then they’ll go somewhere else. “

They can’t do that.

He said, “We need to get police to do their job when it comes to this.  They spend a lot of time complaining and blaming not only me but others and the kind of progressive prosecutors, but we, as a prosecutor… and certainly I cannot prosecute anybody if they don’t make an arrest.”

Finally there seems to be a disconnect between the understanding of local versus national problems.

“The problem is not a local problem,” he said.  “It’s a national problem.”

Gascón explained, “In fact, the data clearly shows that per capita crime has gone up at higher levels in very conservative jurisdictions around, I mean, like Houston, it’s probably one of the most dangerous cities in the country. And yet nobody talks about Houston on the right. You have problems in Miami where you have really conservative Republican leadership.”

And then there was the COVID crime wave and displacements that happened nationally.

Local leadership, especially progressives got blamed for that.

“Some of that is very intentionally political,” he said.  “People lie when they’re trying to get to a certain end politically.”

The DA described it as two different buckets—the bucket of intentional misinformation and the bucket of people that are “just uninformed and they were running scared.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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