Crime Trends in California
- California’s violent crime rate is at its lowest level since 1967.
After increasing slightly in 2012, California’s violent crime rate dropped by 6.5% in 2013, to a 46-year low of 397 per 100,000 residents. From 1960 to 1980, the state’s violent crime rate increased from 239 to 894 violent crimes per 100,000 residents—a staggering 274% rise. After declining in the early 1980s, the rate rose to a peak of 1,120 in 1992. Since then, violent crime has declined substantially. Nonetheless, in the most recent national data (from 2012), California’s violent crime rate of 422 per 100,000 residents was higher than the national rate of 387 and ranked 16th among all states. In 2013, 59% of violent crimes in California were aggravated assaults, 35% were robberies, 5% were rapes, and 1% were homicides.
- After a noticeable uptick in 2012, the property crime rate decreased in 2013.
The 2013 property crime rate of 2,665 per 100,000 residents is down 3.9% from 2012 and close to the 50-year low of 2,594 reached in 2011. Like violent crime, property crime increased dramatically between 1960 and 1980—from 3,177 per 100,000 residents in 1961 to a 50-year peak of 6,939 in 1980. But the property crime rate fell in the 1980s and ’90s, and by 2011 it was down almost 63%. Despite a 6.6% increase in 2012, California’s property crime rate remained below the national rate and ranked 24th among all states. Of all reported property crimes in California in 2013, 61% were larceny thefts, 23% were burglaries, and 16% were auto thefts.
- Crime rates vary dramatically by region and by category.
The lowest rates of both violent and property crime in 2013 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 2,106 and 2,108 per 100,000 residents respectively, while violent crime rates were 279 and 265. The state’s highest rates of property and violent crime were in the relatively poor San Joaquin Valley, at 3,658 and 562 per 100,000 residents. The crime category that varies most widely across regions is robbery: in 2013, the robbery rate in the San Francisco Bay Area (214 per 100,000 residents) was almost nine times higher than the rate in the Sierras (24). By contrast, larceny theft rates are the most uniform across the state: the highest rate in 2013 was 2,058 incidents per 100,000 residents, again in the San Joaquin Valley, and the lowest rate, again in the Sierras, was 1,196. The highest auto theft rates were in the San Joaquin Valley (587) and the San Francisco Bay Area (569), while the lowest rates were on the South Coast (281) and in the Sierras (191).
- Violent crime rates dropped in most of the state, but there were significant increases in some counties.
A total of 41 of the state’s 58 counties—including 14 of the 15 largest—saw decreases in their violent crime rates in 2013. Decreases of more than 10% were seen in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Contra Costa, Riverside, and San Joaquin. In 13 counties the violent crime rate increased by more than 10%, while seven counties—including San Francisco (20.7%)—saw increases of more than 20%. With the exception of San Francisco, 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 2013 in most counties.
Some of the state’s largest counties saw substantial decreases in property crime rates in 2013. Orange and Fresno Counties both observed double-digit drops (10% and 13.2% respectively), while the property crime rate in Sacramento County decreased by 9.4%. In total, 37 counties saw decreases in their property crime rate. Six counties experienced increases of 10% or more, and rates in two counties—San Francisco and Sierra, the state’s second-smallest county—rose by more than 20%.
Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report 1960–2012 and the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, California Crimes and Clearances Files, 2003–2013.