Our Research at Real Clear Investigations: LA’s Crime Surge Migrates to Wealthy, Whiter Zip Codes of Boldface Names

Apr 13, 2022 | Featured, Original Research

We decided to measure exactly how the locations of crime have been changing in a city such as Los Angeles. It is surely something people have felt was happening, but it seemed useful to actually measure the size of the change. We teamed up with James Varney at Real Clear Investigations to put this piece together. The data for this research is available here.

. . . Wealthy and predominantly white neighborhoods have experienced the sharpest upticks in a wide array of crimes, according to an analysis conducted for RealClearInvestigations by criminologist John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center.

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The zip codes showing the largest increases are home to film and pop stars, including Beverly Hills, of “90210” fame, where Beyonce and Jay-Z have their West Coast house; Bel Air, of “Fresh Prince” Will Smith fame, where Jennifer Lopez now resides;  and Los Feliz, where Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom share a house and where Angelina Jolie has resided since her divorce from Brad Pitt. Nearby, the U.S. Postal Service has suspended delivery to one neighborhood in Santa Monica – a town where celebrities including Tom Cruise, Christian Bale and Sandra Bullock reportedly have homes – because “multiple carriers have been subjected to assault and threats of assault.”

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Lott’s analysis (data here), which correlates census and LAPD crime statistics for the period January 2019 to January 2022, also reveals that those neighborhoods now account for much greater shares of the total number of crimes committed in Los Angeles. It shows that the richer and whiter the area, the greater the increase in both raw crime totals and percentages of total city crime.  This includes a wide range of felonies, from robbery, burglary, shoplifting and car theft to aggravated assault and rape. Although poor and minority neighborhoods still experience the largest total number of crimes, including violent crimes such as murder, the shift to relatively safer neighborhoods is pronounced.

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While the total number of rapes fell in Los Angeles during the 37-month period studied, their share spiked in predominantly white neighborhoods – rising 18.2% in neighborhoods where they comprise 81% to 100% of residents. 

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Lott’s analysis found a similar trend for aggravated assault. 

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Lott also found that while the number of reported robberies across the city has fallen slightly, the share of total crimes increased sharply in wealthier and whiter zip codes, rising by 11.8% annually over the 37 months in the most heavily white neighborhoods.

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“For median house values, the share of robberies fell for the highest valued homes by 4.9%, but they rose by 9.7% annually for zip codes where the median house was $1 million to $1.5 million, and by 15.2% for zip codes where the median house was $1.5 million to $2 million,” Lott said. 

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Fear is more pronounced than ever in posh areas, according to several Angelenos familiar with the turf of the rich and famous. This is evidently in part because the fancy wheels often seen on the streets of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, or other upscale communities have also been the prime targets of thieves, Lott’s analysis indicated. 

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Although Lott only analyzed data from Los Angeles, anecdotal evidence and news reports suggest similar trends may be occurring in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and other cities experiencing crime waves. 
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“You see people just smashing glass and stealing on the Miracle Mile in Chicago, videos of people in cities just carrying bags full of clothes they’ve stolen,” Lott said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen crime quite like that in the U.S.

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“There has surely been a change in where the crimes are occurring, moving from lower income to higher property values and to more places. I was surprised by the extent of it.”

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Just what has made once more insulated neighborhoods vulnerable is difficult to pinpoint. RealClearInvestigations reached out to the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, as well as the Beverly Hills Police Department, but none of the three agencies returned phone calls or responded to emailed questions. Details on the race or ethnicity of those involved in the crimes were thus generally unavailable. Also unavailable were official assessments of whether any of the incidents constituted hate crimes.

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Lott noted how California voters have moved the needle on crime in recent years. Proposition 47 decriminalized a number of theft and drug charges, making them misdemeanors, as it did several “non-violent” felonies. Voters also approved Proposition 57, which allows for early release of non-violent offenders.  . . .

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Between 2019 and 2022, other thefts were up 16.7% where median home prices top $2 million, and up 8.7% where homes range from $1.5 to $2 million, “which is expensive even in Los Angeles,” Lott noted. Meanwhile, where homes are between $400,000 and $500,000, other theft dropped 5.5% and 4.6% where the median home is below $400,000, the analysis showed. 

James Varney, “LA’s Crime Surge Migrates to Wealthy Whiter Zip Codes of Boldface Names,” Real Clear Investigations, April 13, 2022.
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