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Just the FACTS

Crime Trends in California

  • California’s violent crime rate is at its lowest since 1967.
    California’s violent crime rate dropped by 1% in 2014 to a 47-year low of 393 per 100,000 residents. From 1960 to 1980, the state’s violent crime rate increased from 236 to 888 violent crimes per 100,000 residents—a staggering 276% rise. After declining in the early 1980s, the rate rose to a peak of 1,104 in 1992. Since then, violent crime has declined substantially. Nonetheless, in the most recent national data (from 2013), California’s violent crime rate of 402 per 100,000 residents was higher than the national rate of 368 and ranked 33rd among all states. In 2014, 61% of violent crimes in California were aggravated assaults, 32% were robberies, 6% were rapes, and 1% were homicides.
  • Property crime decreased again after a noticeable uptick in 2012.
    The 2014 property crime rate of 2,459 per 100,000 residents is down 7.7% from 2013 and below the 50-year low of 2,594 reached in 2011. Like violent crime, property crime increased dramatically between 1960 and 1980—from 3,140 per 100,000 residents in 1961 to a 50-year peak of 6,900 in 1980. But the property crime rate fell in the 1980s and ’90s, and by 2011 it was down almost 63%. In the most recent national data (from 2013) California’s property crime rate of 2,658 per 100,000 residents is below the national rate of 2,731 and ranked 24th among all states. Of all reported property crimes in California in 2014, 63% were larceny thefts, 21% were burglaries, and 16% were auto thefts.
  • California sustains a long-term decline in crime rates

    Figure 2

    SOURCE: Author calculation based on Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report 1960–2002 and the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, California Crimes and Clearances Files, 2003–2014.

    NOTE: Violent crime includes homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; property crime includes burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny theft (including non-felonious larceny theft).

  • Crime rates vary dramatically by region and category.
    The lowest rates of both violent and property crime in 2014 were in the Sierra region (including the small rural counties from Alpine to Inyo) and on the South Coast (which includes Ventura, Orange, and San Diego Counties). Property crime rates in these two regions stood at 1,903 and 1,847 per 100,000 residents, respectively; violent crime rates were 300 and 262. The state’s highest rates of property and violent crime were in the relatively poor San Joaquin Valley, at 3,159 and 539 per 100,000 residents. The crime category that varies the most widely across regions is robbery: in 2014, the robbery rate in the San Francisco Bay Area (173 per 100,000 residents) was almost nine times higher than the rate in the Sierras (20). By contrast, larceny theft rates are the most uniform across the state: the highest rate in 2014 was 1,878 incidents per 100,000 residents, in both the San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco Bay Area, and the lowest rate, again in the Sierras, was 1,172. The highest auto theft rates were in the San Francisco Bay Area (545) and San Joaquin Valley (484), while the lowest rates were on the South Coast (242) and in the Sierras (145).
  • Violent crime rates dropped in most of the state but increased significantly in some counties.
    A total of 30 of the state’s 58 counties—including 10 of the 15 largest—saw decreases in their violent crime rates in 2014. Decreases of more than 10% were seen in 14 counties, including Alameda, Kern, and San Mateo. In 13 counties the violent crime rate increased by more than 10%, while six counties saw increases of more than 20%. All of these larger increases occurred in small counties, which are susceptible to substantial swings in crime rates due to small populations and rare instances of violent crime.
  • Property crime declined in 2014 in almost all counties.
    Some of the state’s largest counties saw substantial decreases in property crime rates in 2014. Six of the 15 largest counties observed double-digit drops: San Diego (16.8%), Orange (12%), Sacramento (10%), Fresno (12.1%), Kern (15.8%), and San Joaquin (13.2%). In total, 52 counties saw decreases in their property crime rate. In 22 counties the property crime rate decreased by more than 10%, while seven counties saw decreases of more than 20%.
  • Most large counties continue to see crime rates decrease in 2014

    Figure 2

    SOURCE: Author calculation based on the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, California Crimes and Clearances Files, 2013–2014.

    NOTE: Violent crime includes homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; property crime includes burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny theft (including non-felonious larceny theft).


Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, California Crimes and Clearances Files, and California Department of Finance’s Demographic Research Unit, County Population Estimates.

Authors

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Magnus Lofstrom
Senior Fellow
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Brandon Martin
Research Associate