The Story Behind Every Murder in Los Angeles

On average there are up to two killings a day in Los Angeles County. And all of them are faithfully reported in a grim Los Angeles Times blog The Homicide Report.

I visited recently with the Homicide Report’s main staff writer, Nicole Santa Cruz. Although she’s a reporter, her station is appropriately located within the data desk sector at the Times. While Cruz reports each murder, she is surrounded by web producers and data specialists who package that reporting into dynamic and interactive digital content.

On this morning, no surprise, she is busy tracking down another murder. The news was delivered to her by an advisory e-mail from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of her many sources. She also scours periodic data dumps from police departments and the coroner’s office.

Santa Cruz has been working on the Homicide Report for the past two years. “I think people really care about it. The people who it really impacts are super grateful it exists,” says Santa Cruz, pictured at her desk, below.

nicole santa cruz

She keeps a master spread sheet of every killing in the county that includes basic information such as victim names, coroner case identification number, and the location and time of each murder. In addition to the basic cataloging, Santa Cruz or someone from a team of reporter trainees at the Times aims to write a full story about every murder. That means tracking down family members, investigators, medical examiners, street sources and anyone else who can shed light on how yet another luckless person in Los Angeles County met with fatal violence.

The Homicide Report is a blog that takes full advantage of its digital format. In addition to posts about each murder, there are digital extras such as a searchable database and an interactive map showing every homicide in the past 12 months. That’s 550 and counting.

The blog, which started in 2007, is more than a public service. It also generates enterprise stories.

Sometimes Santa Cruz will step back from daily reporting to examine patterns within all the data collected by the Times. That often yields important trend stories on homicides in the county.

Last year, for example, she noticed that victims were skewing older. So she wrote about this trend in a Report post.  She also wrote a story about the tiny community of South Vermont Avenue when she noticed from map data that this was the deadliest place to live in the county. The report, she said, came as a surprise to even some of the sheriff’s deputies who patrolled there.

“What’s really cool about this database is that it combines the best of old school reporting with the tools of what we now have at our disposal,” she says.

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