Personal safety looms large for Californians, and their worries include both criminals and the police. These days, many Californians express heightened concern about crime in general and give local police lukewarm ratings when it comes to controlling crime in their community. Meanwhile, racial profiling continues to make headlines, putting some Californians on edge around law enforcement.
A strong majority of Californians worry they or a family member will be a victim of a crime (21% very, 44% somewhat), while fewer are less concerned (29% not very, 6% not at all), according to the February 2023 PPIC Survey.
Among partisan groups, Republicans (26%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (17%) and independents (20%) to say they are very concerned about being a victim of a crime. Across racial/ethnic groups, a quarter each of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos say they are very concerned about becoming a victim of a crime compared to fewer whites (15%). Shares who are very concerned fall with rising income.
While many are feeling unsafe because of criminal activity, some Californians are uneasy about treatment by police—as is the case with racial profiling. One in three Californians say they or someone they know have been victims of racial profiling (7% themselves, 20% someone they know, 7% both) while two in three say they have not had this experience.
Republicans are least likely to say they or someone they know have been a victim of racial profiling (27% vs. 42% independents, 40% Democrats). Shares who report this experience increase as income and education decrease.
When it comes to any experience in dealing with racial profiling, Black Californians feel especially unsafe: six in ten African Americans say that they or someone they know has faced racial profiling, compared to far fewer in other racial/ethnic groups. In fact, African Americans are the only demographic group to reach a majority saying this.
Across the state’s regions, Los Angeles residents (32%) are most likely to be very concerned about being a victim of a crime while residents in Orange/San Diego and the SF Bay Area are least likely (15% each; 22% Inland Empire, 18% Central Valley). When it comes to racial profiling in these regions, nearly four in ten residents in the Inland Empire (39%) and Los Angeles (38%) say this has happened to them or someone they know, compared to fewer in other regions (33% SF Bay Area, 29% Orange/San Diego, 28% Central Valley).
Over the past decade, crime rates have remained relatively low and stable across California. However, violent crimes such as aggravated assault and homicide began ticking up in recent years—as did auto thefts. Furthermore, anxiety has grown around mass shootings, although California’s rate of mass shootings is lower than other states.
At the same time, racial/ethnic disparities are apparent among individuals stopped by police, and among stops that required a search or use of force, according to this year’s report for the Racial and Identity Profiling Act. Governor Newsom’s most recent 2023–24 budget proposal includes the additional funding necessary for local governments to cover the costs of complying with the Racial and Identity Profiling Mandate, which prohibits law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling, requires them to report data on officer stops, and requires participation in racial profiling-related training.
Leaders in the state and across the country continue to discuss how to find a balanced solution between addressing public safety, as police staffing levels have fallen, and issues related to police behavior. In California, legislation has included reforms such as SB2 that increase police transparency and accountability. As these efforts progress, PPIC will be monitoring Californians’ views on crime and police.