Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Homicide Report?
The Homicide Report is a listing of all homicide victims reported by the Los Angeles County coroner. Any person who dies at the hand of another in Los Angeles County, and whose death is recorded by the coroner, is included in the report, which is updated weekly.
The report strives to augment those basic facts with additional reporting about those cases, as well as other subjects relevant to homicides.
The website was created in January 2007 by Jill Leovy, a veteran Times’ writer, as a reported blog. Leovy, the author of nearly all the unsigned posts from 2007, launched the report as a way to balance the crime coverage of the Los Angeles Times. As a practical necessity, printed editions of The Times, like those of other metropolitan newspapers, give the most attention to the most unusual, and thus statistically marginal, homicide cases.
It is our goal to give readers a complete picture of who dies in homicides, where, and why -- thus conveying both the personal story and the statistical story with greater accuracy and providing a forum for readers to remember victims and discuss violence.
Initially, the Homicide Report blog provided detail on many cases that did not appear in the newspaper's print edition. Some months after it launched, a separate map was created to display the location of killings and allow readers to explore trends. The first version of that map was inadvertently disabled by the redesign of The Times' website in 2009.
The new version of the report, which launched Jan. 26, 2010, merges the blog posts with a searchable database and interactive maps. The maps break down homicides by various categories, including race/ethnicity, age, neighborhood/city, gender, method of death and more. Readers can link to the original Homicide Report to read archived comments and the original posts. In some cases the content has been edited to fit into the new style and format.
In the coming weeks, The Times will begin a partnership with USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism that will feature the work of student journalists on the Homicide Report. Our hope is that this will provide readers with more frequent dispatches from the field, as well as give student journalists valuable crime-reporting experience.
Why does the Homicide Report give the race of victims and suspects?
The Homicide Report includes information on race or ethnicity of each homicide victim, as well as the name, gender and age and the time, place and manner of death. A number of readers have asked why race is included. Some have criticized the practice.
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.
Race and ethnicity, like age and gender, are stark predictors of homicide risk. Blacks are much more likely to die from homicide than whites, and Latinos somewhat more likely. Black men, in particular, are extraordinarily vulnerable: They are less than 9% of the county's population, but they represented nearly a third of homicide victims over the three years of data in the Homicide Report. That means one in a 1,000 blacks became homicide victims over those three years, more than 10 times the rate for whites and nearly four times the rate for Latinos.
The Homicide Report recognizes the peril of turning victims into statistics by reducing their lives and deaths to a few facts -- particularly racial designations that provide only the roughest markers of ancestry and history. But given the magnitude of difference in homicide risk along racial and ethnic lines – -and the suffering homicide inflicts on subsets of the population -- we opt to present the racial and ethnic contours of the problem so conspicuous in the coroner's data.
In making racial and ethnic distinctions, The Times relies largely on the coroner's designation. Occasionally, additional reporting from law enforcement officials or the victim's family may lead us to make changes.
Why does the Homicide Report list killings by police?
Any death of a human being by the hand of another is included in the Homicide Report.
This is the Los Angeles County coroner's definition of homicide. The definition wraps in both criminal homicides and justifiable homicides by police, as well as justifiable homicides by civilians acting in self- defense.
The coroner's investigation, which is separate from a police investigation, is what determines how the case is categorized. Coroner's investigators take intent, as well as other factors, into account. To the coroner, the word "homicide" is a medical examiner's term of art, not a legal concept, said coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey. "If the D.A. chooses to file charges, or not file charges, it's of no concern to the coroner," he said.
The same rationale is used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its national mortality reports. The method differs from that used by the FBI, which collects data from law enforcement agencies. The inclusion of justifiable homicides, police killings and other deaths not listed by law enforcement as homicides means that the Centers for Disease Control routinely places homicide numbers at a higher point than the FBI does. In 2006, for example, the most recent year for which both have reported homicides, the CDC set the nationwide number at 18,573 and the FBI set it at 17,034.
The Homicide Report presents this larger data set. In the city of Los Angeles, for example, it lists 403 homicides in 2008 compared with 384 reported to the FBI. The higher total is not a catalog of murder cases but rather a measure of lethal conflict between human beings in any form.
That includes cases in which a police officer is menaced with a deadly weapon and fires back in self-defense. The Homicide Report presents such incidents simply as fatal encounters. Victims can be instigators and still be included in the Homicide Report. There is, as Harvey said, "no judgment on it."
Are there a lot of homicides in Los Angeles County?
The answer depends on the point of comparison.
The raw number of homicides is large, making for a long list on the Homicide Report. But that's mostly because of the size of the population. Big populations make for big statistics; thus L.A. County accounted for 39% of homicides in California and nearly 6% of all the homicides in the nation in 2008, the latest year for which the FBI has published complete statistics.
Measured as a rate per capita, though, the number of homicides here is moderate. Among the 35 cities with populations of at least 500,000, L.A. ranked 23rd in 2008, based on FBI data. With slightly fewer than 10 deaths for every 100,000 people, the city ranked slightly above Las Vegas but lower than Detroit; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Las Vegas; Baltimore; and Phoenix.
The county’s high-risk demographics (lots of poverty, lots of single-parent homes) make homicides more likely than in wealthier, whiter cities such as San Diego.
Over the last decade, homicide rates have plunged in Los Angeles County, as they have in most of the nation’s urban areas. In 1992 and 1993, peak years of a national homicide epidemic, the rates were more than double what they are today. There are, on average, almost two homicides daily in Los Angeles County now; six per day was the average in the early 1990s.
But the numbers are still grim. Los Angeles homicide rates are not as low as New York City's and, like most American city cores, central L.A. has a much higher homicide rate than that of surrounding suburbs and small cities. The average national homicide rate is about 6 per 100,000, about two-thirds of the L.A. city rate.
Citywide and countywide homicide rates are deceiving because, like all big metropolitan areas, Los Angeles County contains a combination of safe and dangerous neighborhoods. Areas with very few homicides, such as Brentwood, Malibu, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills, form a patchwork with areas with a lot of homicides, such as Compton, South L.A., Watts, Crenshaw and Athens.
So when you scroll down the list of victims on the Homicide Report, think of the data not as an L.A. picture but as an American one. This is the local version of a longstanding national homicide problem.
Why do some neighborhoods include the population for unincorporated areas?
The population listed is for the area shown on the map. A small number of cities and Los Angeles neighborhoods are interspersed with unincorporated areas of the county. In those places, The Times has added the populations together in order to produce an overall number of residents.
This enables us to present homicide data as it relates to larger geographic areas. In many cases, breaking out the county areas on their own would produce small fragments that could be taken out of context. For example, while Compton had a population of 93,493 in 2000, an additional 20,128 people lived in unincorporated areas that are either adjacent to or completely surrounded by the city of Compton.
Why is The Times using 2000 census data for the populations?
The Times is using 2000 U.S. census data in order to have the same source for population throughout the county. More recent population estimates are limited to places with populations of 20,000 or more. The populations for cities come directly from Census 2000. The Times computed the populations for unincorporated areas by adding together the individual city blocks that make them up. These totals may differ from the populations published by the Census Bureau for Census Designated Places, unincorporated areas for which the bureau tabulates population data. The Times map has combined some of these with other nearby areas.
Is every reported homicide included?
No. The coroner sometimes reports a death as a homicide when later investigation does not substantiate that conclusion. When The Times relaunched the Homicide Report as a database, we did not include cases in which a death never appeared on the original blog and was later ruled not a homicide.
In other cases, the coroner provides so little information that The Times may wait to include the case until additional details can be learned either from the coroner or law enforcement – this was true of fewer than a handful of cases at the launch of the interactive map on Jan. 26, 2010.
Are some homicides included that were not on a coroner’s list?
Yes. In unusual instances, police report a homicide even though the coroner is not involved. This can happen if a body is not found. In other cases, details of a homicide are available from law enforcement officials before they are released by the coroner.
Why is the neighborhood reported in the post sometimes different than what appears on the map?
In 2009, The Times began working to standardize how the newspaper referred to neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles through the Mapping L.A. project. Readers were invited to help the staff get it right and as a result, 114 areas within the city of L.A. were defined with specific boundaries.
With the relaunch of Homicide Report, we have expanded that effort for the rest of L.A. County. One of the results is that posts written prior to the creation of the maps may place the incident in another area or call the same area by a different name.
Are black vs. brown race tensions driving homicide?
A note to readers: This portion of the FAQ was written in 2007, and all figures should be taken in that context. We will attempt to update this document with more current information as time allows.
No. A few high-profile cases, including the suspected racially motivated killing of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division, have fueled speculation of rising racial conflict in L.A. But among detectives and police officers who deal daily with homicides, the prevailing view is that the race problem -- for now, anyway -- remains marginal. "I don't think it's there," says Watts homicide Det. Chris Barling. Det. John Radtke, a South-Central homicide investigator, agrees. "We don't see it happening," he says. Statistics back them up.
Take the four most violent LAPD police precincts -- Newton, 77th Street, Southwest and Southeast.
These racially-mixed divisions cover Historic South-Central Los Angeles and surrounding areas and consistently rank highest in homicides among the LAPD precincts. In 2006 they accounted for nearly half of all the murders in the city.
But out of a total of 236 homicides in these four divisions in 2006, 22 involved Latinos killing blacks, or blacks killing Latinos.
The vast majority, nearly 90%, involved suspects and victims of the same race. In a few other cases, the suspects are unknown and could represent disparate races. But even in those, a mix of stray-bullet, gang- and narcotic-related killings, race is not believed to be a motive.
In areas patrolled by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, too, the pattern of killings on the street is “almost the opposite” of the picture lately highlighted in the media, sheriff's Cmdr. Pete Amico says.
The tilt is so far the other way that some homicide investigators say what actually perplexes them is how little racial crossover there is in killings.
Same-race murder predominates even where blacks and Latinos mix the most. In LAPD’s Southeast Division in Watts, for example, the population is at least 56% Latino and 40% black, according to U.S. Census numbers. But of 70 homicides reported there in 2006, only one was confirmed as black-on-Latino. No Latino-on-black killings occurred.
To be sure, tension between blacks and Latinos does exist in L.A., and a few murders result. For example, a string of racially motivated gang killings in Highland Park in the late 1990s went to trial in federal court in 2006.
And detectives think the December killing by Latino gang members of Cheryl Green, who was black, was as purely race-driven as a crime can get. The subsequent killing of a witness in that case, and an unrelated racial beating case in Long Beach, have further inflamed public concern about racial violence.
But even in LAPD’s Harbor Division, where Green was killed, racial murder is an aberration.
Of the 20 homicides in the Harbor City-area precinct in 2006, only one other is confirmed to have involved Latino suspects and a black victim. That case had to do with a drug deal, not race, said Det. Jim Perkins, supervisor of Harbor's homicide squad.
In two other cases the suspects are unknown and may be of different races. But in general, Perkins said, Harbor-area killings involve Latino gangs fighting other Latino gangs over territory.
Where the trend is going is hard to gauge. Law enforcement officials throughout the county describe a fairly stable mix of Latino-vs.-Latino and black-vs.-black homicides over the years, punctuated by a few scattered skirmishes between gangs of different races, especially in border areas.
The sheriff’s Firestone area had one such flare-up two years ago. The dispute, purportedly over a drug deal, became so violent and so racially charged that black gangs began hunting Latinos indiscriminately and vice versa, said Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Hartshorne. At least two noncombatants -- an older man and a fruit vendor -- were killed simply because of race, he said.
More common, though, are black-vs.-Latino gang wars over traditional gang issues -- such as territory or revenge, said Det. Kelle Baitx, of LAPD’s Newton Division. “It’s on gang lines. It’s territory, not a race thing,” he said.
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Los Angeles District Attorney's Victims of Violent Crimes Assistance Program: The Victim-Witness Assistance Program’s mission is to alleviate the trauma and devastating effects of crime on the lives of victims and their families. Victim advocates guide victims through the court process, help victims receive restitution, provide crisis intervention, and provide referrals to counseling and community services.
California Attorney General’s Victim's Services Unit : Victims' Services Unit offers crime victims and their families support and information at every stage of the criminal process. Through the Victims’ Services Unit, crime victims and the family of victims now are able to track the status of appeals and recusal cases. These updates allow victims and family survivors to exercise their rights to testify or otherwise participate in parole, clemency and execution proceedings.
Loved Ones Victims Services: Started in 1985, this organization specializes in providing counseling for homicide victims' families, including children. Clients are offered therapy from licensed professionals to deal with the trauma associated with losing a loved one to violence.
Citizens Against Homicide: Support group and forum for those who lose loved ones to murder. They offer newsletters and grief assistance.
Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families: The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families who are grieving a death to share their experiences. They do this through peer support groups, education, and training.
National Center for Victims of Crime: The organization helps victims of crime to rebuild their lives and is dedicated to serving individuals, families, and communities harmed by crime.
National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children: POMC provides the on-going emotional support needed to help parents and other survivors facilitate the reconstruction of a "new life" and to promote a healthy resolution. Not only does POMC help survivors deal with their acute grief but also helps with the criminal justice system.
Office for Victims of Crime: OVC provides substantial funding to state victim assistance and compensation programs—the lifeline services that help victims to heal. The agency supports trainings designed to educate criminal justice and allied professionals regarding the rights and needs of crime victims.
Project Cry No More: Project Cry No More is a self-support non-profit offering on-going emotional support, education, prevention, intervention, advocacy and awareness.