Crime on the rise in Los Angeles in first half of 2015

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The City of Los Angeles has seen a spike in crime in nearly every major category for the first half of 2015, reversing the declining trend of the last dozen years, after California recently reduced penalties for low-level and non-violent offenses, officials said on Wednesday.

But the homicide rate in the nation's second-largest city continued to fall, declining to 126 so far this year compared to 135 for the first six months of 2014, according to figures from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck said they were troubled by increases in major crime in categories other than homicide, including robbery, rape, burglary and car theft.

Beck told a news conference that a ballot measure approved by voters last year to reduce criminal penalties throughout California for a wide class of non-violent crimes, including drug possession and shoplifting, had contributed to increased crime in the city.

The change in law has resulted in fewer such offenders being jailed in the Los Angeles area. Law enforcement leaders have expressed concern that some people who would otherwise be held behind bars after committing a crime will re-offend.

Major crimes were up 12.7 percent in the first half of 2015 with 54,993 total incidents, according to figures released by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Among major crimes, the largest increase was seen in aggravated assaults, which rose 26.3 percent to 6,073 incidents in the first six months of this year, compared to 4,810 for the same period of last year.

"We're on track to have the lowest homicide rate the city has seen in modern history, but homicide is just the tip of the crime iceberg," Beck told reporters.

The increase in crime in Los Angeles comes as New York reports it falling in several major categories this year. There were 9,176 assaults in the Big Apple in the first half of 2015, compared to 9,958 a year earlier, the New York Police Department said.

But murders rose to 164 from 150 in the first half of 2014.

Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, had 203 homicides through June 28 this year, compared with 171 in the same period last year, according to the Chicago Police Department.

(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Eric Walsh)