"LAPD is not on the brink," of a major inter-racial crime wave, three University of California Irvine scholars have concluded after examining assault, robbery and homicide data in the city's southern police precincts.
The researchers said that, although some cross-racial crimes involving blacks and Latinos have been "sensationalized," the numbers suggest that offenders preying on people of their own race is a much bigger problem, and should remain the focus of police attention.
"It sort of goes against the more spectacular stories that have been dramatized in the media," another researcher, UC Irvine assistant professor John R. Hipp, said of the study's findings. "It's far more common to see [violence] going on within groups. We don't see any real trend here."
The study by Hipp and fellow UC Irvine criminologists George E. Tita and Lindsay N. Boggess compared aggravated assault, robbery and homicide cases between 2000 and 2006 in the four precincts of LAPD's South Bureau against 2000 Census data. It found that black offenders were nearly eight times more likely to kill another black person as to kill a Latino, and Latino offenders were nearly twice as likely to kill another Latino as a black person.
A similar situation existed with robberies and assaults, the study found: Black offenders were six times more likely to assault those of their own race than Latinos. Given the opportunity, they were about equally likely to rob from each group. Latino offenders were almost twice as likely to assault fellow Latinos--and almost three times more likely to rob them--than to assault or rob blacks.
The researchers made their calculations, in essence, by predicting crime rates based on the size of South Bureau's black and Latino populations. They also looked at the degree to which the two groups are mixed, and, thus, their opportunity to commit crimes against each other. Then they looked at how much actual crimes exceeded or fell short of their predictions.
They did find what Hipp called "a blip" in one area: African Americans increased their tendency to kill Latinos in 2005, while Latinos increased their tendency to kill blacks in 2006.
But the total numbers of killings involved were relatively small. And since there were no similar trends in assaults or robberies, researchers were not sure what, if anything, the blips mean.
Overall, black/Latino violence is dwarfed by black-on-black and Latino-on-Latino crime, the researchers said.
The findings are important, said Tita, because "there are costs associated with painting any place as being on the verge of a race war. Would you want to move to an area where you are told by the media if browns go there, they will be attacked by blacks, or blacks will be attacked by browns? Do you want to invest in such a community? It is important to demonstrate that we are not this city on the verge of a race war."
Law enforcement priorities should not be driven by sensational stories, he added. "You don't want to ignore the vast majority of your crime and run to the margins, and deal with less common types of crime," he said.
The Homicide Report made a similar finding about black/Latino murder earlier this year after examining 236 homicide cases in three South Bureau precincts and one Central Bureau precinct last year. Just 22 of those homicides crossed racial lines.
The study also echoes what many people in South Bureau law enforcement have said for some time: That racially-motivated violence between blacks and Latinos occurs occasionally, but tends to be overplayed by the media.
The UC Irvine study is provocative in what it didn't find, however: In the past, researchers have speculated that the reason same-race violence dominates is simply that different races tend not to live close together, and so don't have much opportunity to hurt each other.
But Los Angeles, with its high degree of racial mixing, offers, "an interesting laboratory," to test this idea, Hipp said--and this study suggests it doesn't hold up: Violent crime would appear to involve more complex factors than simple opportunity.
(Above, Mexican-and-soul food fusion, Gage and Figueroa, South-Central Los Angeles, and a mural of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Virgen de Guadalupe, 50th and Vermont.)