Homicides: Who, what, when, where and how
The Homicide Report is a project of the Los Angeles Times' data desk that chronicles homicides in Los Angeles County. Because it is a database, it contains information that might not be included in a news article in the printed pages of The Times.
That information allows it to keep track of statistics, such as these through Dec. 6 for 2010: the most frequent method of homicide (gunshot), the deadliest day of the week (Sunday) and the race with the most victims (Latino).
Readers who come across a Homicide Report entry for the first time are sometimes startled by the writing style, especially the use of racial identifiers.
Margaret Shore e-mailed to ask about that in an entry about the suspect in the home-invasion slaying of a Hawthorne couple:
Several weeks ago, John Wesley Ewell, a 53-year-old black man, was apprehended by sheriff's deputies in Lennox and booked on suspicion of murder in connection with the deaths of Leamon and Robyn Turnage.
Family members of Leamon, a 69-year-old white man, and Robyn, a 57-year-old white woman, had been unable to contact them and requested that authorities conduct a welfare check.
"I was surprised to see the victims and the suspected killer identified by race," Shore wrote. "My understanding of Times guidelines is that race is specified only if it has a specific meaning to the article."
"Today while reading an article online I noticed something very disturbing," he wrote. "Here is the first line:
Alfredo Escobedo, a 21-year-old Latino, was arraigned Tuesday in Downey Municipal Court on charges of murder and attempted murder in the death of Carlos Rodriguez, a 17-year-old Latino...
"Why are both of these men identified as Latino?" he asked. "The ancestry of the person does not need to be identified unless it is somehow relevant to the news. This seems like a blatant way to try to associate Latinos with crime."
Shore and Diaz are correct about The Times’ guidelines -- for news articles. The style guide states: "The racial and ethnic background of people in the news should not be mentioned unless it is relevant. When it is, such identification requires sensitivity."
In both of these examples, the racial identifiers don’t seem to be relevant. But Megan Garvey, the editor who oversees the Homicide Report, explained why race is included.
"When people are new to the report, they often get angry that we include race/ethnicity for the victims and, when known, their alleged killers," she said. "But we think it’s important to shine a light on how some groups, particularly young black men, are disproportionately the victims of homicide. Suppressing that information only serves to tell an incomplete story."
The report’s Frequently Asked Questions section explains further:
Racial information was once routinely included in news stories about crimes, but in recent decades, newspapers and other media outlets stopped mentioning suspects' or victims' race or ethnicity because of public criticism. Newspapers came to embrace the idea that such information is irrelevant to the reporting of crimes and may unfairly stigmatize racial groups.
The Homicide Report departs from this rule in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate demographic picture of who is dying in homicides in Los Angeles County.
The report was created in 2007, and a map was added early this year as part of a new database to pinpoint locations of homicides. The database also allows for year-to-year comparisons, and shows a steady decline in the number of homicides: from 939 in 2007, to 879 in 2008, to 739 last year and 567 through Dec. 6 of this year.
Garvey explained the report's aim:
"The goal of the Homicide Report is to provide a forum where people can talk honestly about violence and the toll it has taken in their lives and communities," she said. "By its nature, that conversation can be raw and difficult. In many cases, the Homicide Report account is the only public acknowledgment of the person's life and death."
Photo: Police tape cordons off a custom-auto shop in Compton, where two men were killed in April. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times