Crime Trends in California
- California’s crime rate has been declining since 1980 and is now below the national rate.
After increasing steadily in the 1960s and 1970s, California’s overall crime rate has decreased steeply from its 1980 peak of 7,833 crimes per 100,000 residents to 2,998 crimes per 100,000 in 2011. This decrease (about 62%) is greater than the nationwide decline of about 44%, from 5,950 per 100,000 in 1980 to 3,346 per 100,000 in 2010 (according to the most recent nationwide data). In 2010, California’s overall crime rate was lower than the U.S. rate and 28th among all states.
- Crime rates vary dramatically across the state and by category.
The crime category that varies most widely across regions is robbery: in 2011, the robbery rate in the San Francisco Bay Area (179 per 100,000 residents) was more than seven times higher than the rate in the Sierra (24). The state’s highest property crime rate (2,358 per 100,000 residents, in the relatively poor San Joaquin Valley) was about twice the lowest rate (1,180 per 100,000, on the South Coast, which includes San Diego). The violent crime rate was lowest in the Sierra (265) and highest in the San Joaquin Valley (573). Felony larceny theft rates are the most uniform across the state: in 2011 the highest rate was 757 incidents per 100,000 residents, in the San Joaquin Valley; the lowest rate, in the Far North, was 462. Crime rates in all categories in the state’s most populous region, the Greater Los Angeles area, were close to the statewide rate.
- After substantial increases between 1960 and 1992, violent crime has declined.
Like the rest of the nation, California experienced steep increases in violent crime in the 1960s and 70s. Between 1960 and 1980 the violent crime rate rose from 239 to 894 violent crimes per 100,000 residents—a staggering 274% increase. After declining in the early 80s, the rate continued to rise to a peak of 1,120 in 1992. Since then, violent crime has substantially and continuously declined. By 2011 the rate was down to 412, the lowest since 1967. But California’s violent crime rate is still higher than the national rate (in 2010 it was 439, compared to the national rate of and 404), and it ranks 16th among all states.
- Property crime is at its lowest level since 1960.
The property crime rate more than doubled from 1961 to 1980, from 3,177 per 100,000 residents to a 50-year peak of 6,939. Since 1980, property crime has fallen almost 63%; it reached a 50-year low of 2,586 in 2011. The property crime rate in California is now about 10% lower than the national rate and ranks 30th among all states. Property crime is much more common than violent crime: for every violent crime in California there are about 6.3 property crimes.
- As violent crime continues to decline, property crime may be on the rise.
A close look at recent monthly crime rates yields evidence that the downward trend in property crimes is ending. The property crime rate in December 2010 was higher than the same month in the previous year for the first time since March 2006. With the exception of July, the rate has been higher in every month since May 2011—several months before California implemented public safety realignment, which shifted responsibility of thousands of felons from the state to the counties. Statistics on felony larceny theft are the strongest indication that some property crime may be on the rise: since July 2010, this rate has increased in all but two months (February and March 2011) relative to the same month in the previous year.
Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report 1960–2010 and 2002–2011 county level crime data from the Attorney General’s Division of California Justice Information Services.