(Bloomberg) -- Halfway through the year, murders in Los Angeles are surging on a wave of gun violence, following last year’s spike in crime.

The city saw 172 homicides through June 18, a 5.5% increase from the same period last year, and a 35% jump from the first half of 2020, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. Four more murders were registered in the past week, Los Angeles Police Department police chief Michel Moore at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. 

Overall, violent crime is up about 8% as of last week in the US’s second-largest city. “Armed robberies continue to be a problem, at mini marts, gas station and liquor stores,” Moore said at a press briefing. 

Crime is shaping up to be the top issue in LA’s mayoral race in November, pitting Congresswoman Karen Bass against billionaire real-estate developer Rick Caruso. 

In the campaign, Caruso, whose high-end shopping center the Grove was targeted in a smash and grab last year, has taken a law-and-order approach with a vow to hire 1,500 more police officers and eliminate encampments for the homeless, whose population tops 40,000 in the city. Bass has also promised police reforms, pledging to recruit civilians to fill desk jobs to get more officers on the streets.

Experts say the crime surge in Los Angeles reflects a national trend that began during the pandemic. A study by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice found that homicide rates in 2020 jumped 30% from the previous year across 34 cities.

“Over 2020 and 2021, we’re talking about exceptional pandemic conditions, economic hardships, civil unrest and changes in policing,” said Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of criminal justice at the Public Policy Institute of California. “We’ve also seen very notable increases in gun sales.”

The city recorded 397 murders total in 2021, the highest annual count in 15 years. In 293 of the cases, a firearm was used, according to an analysis by Crosstown, which tracks data across Los Angeles neighborhoods. This year, the number of shooting victims has risen 55% compared with the first half of 2020, the latest police data show.

“It’s a troubling, notable increase in homicides, especially when we look at gun-related homicides and aggravated assaults,” said Lofstrom.

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminal justice professor at University of Missouri St. Louis, said a boom in the use of street drugs is a factor in the uptick of violence.

“Serious drug use has gone up, and drug overdose deaths went up during the pandemic,” he said. 

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