The Homicide Report

The Times chronicles L.A. County
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What is The Homicide Report?

February 13, 2007 | 12:06 pm

The Homicide Report is a weekly listing of all homicide victims reported by the Los Angeles County coroner, combined with updates every few days from law enforcement agencies of new homicides not yet listed. Any human being who dies at the hand of another in Los Angeles County, and whose death is recorded by the coroner, is included in the report.

The report seeks to reverse an age-old paradox of big-city crime reporting, which dictates that only the most unusual and statistically marginal homicide cases receive press coverage, while those cases at the very eye of the storm -- those which best expose the true statistical dimensions of the problem of deadly violence -- remain hidden.

Selective news coverage is a practical necessity for most news organizations operating in a county where nearly 1,100 people die from homicide yearly. The Los Angeles Times, for example, is limited by the number of pages it prints, and in a recent year, found room for stories on fewer than 10% of L.A. County homicides, according to an analysis by a Times researcher. Such selectivity ensures that the people and places most affected by homicides are least likely to be seen, while the safest people are inundated with information about crimes unlikely to ever touch their lives.

In L.A., people understand this paradox well, as numerous letters to he Homicide Report attest. When a celebrity's wife or girlfriend is killed in Brentwood or Studio City, or when a female student is killed in Westwood, we know reaction will be swift. Such cases, catastrophic in their own right, traditionally generate a forceful response--not just from the press, but also from politicians, activists, institutions and the general public.

But Angelenos also know that not all suffer equally from homicide. Night after night, vastly higher numbers of young men, most of them black or Latino, many with criminal records, are shot in drive-by shootings in Lynwood, Compton, Watts, South-Central Los Angeles, Willowbrook, Westlake, Boyle Heights, or any of a number of neighborhoods in the county long associated with relatively high crime rates.

We know the press takes little notice of these deaths. Immense private heartbreak and shattering communal events are thus rendered footnotes or ephemera, while the phenomenon of routine killing in the public streets of a major, first-world city is diffused into virtual invisibility. The public comprehends there is an elephant in the room, but is never given more than a glimpse of its massive bulk; meanwhile the press focuses on a toenail, or the tip of a trunk.

With The Homicide Report, however, The Times seeks to exploit the advantages of the web to eliminate selectivity in homicide coverage and give readers a more complete picture of who dies from homicide, where, and why -- thus conveying both the personal story and the statistical story with greater accuracy.

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