Much has been written about crime in California, and preliminary data from 2021 show increases in some crimes—including homicides, aggravated assaults, car break-ins, and auto thefts—in four major cities across the state. In our February PPIC Statewide Survey, we found that 7% of Californians named crime, drugs, and gangs as the top issue for Governor Newsom and the legislature to work on in the coming year—an increase from 1% in 2021 and 2% in 2020. Californians’ ratings of the job local police are doing in controlling crime have also declined slightly since 2020.
Today, 65% of Californians view violence and street crime in their local community as a problem—including a record-high 34% who say it is a big problem. Notably, the share calling crime a big problem has increased 10 percentage points since February 2020.
The view that crime is a big problem is on the rise across a wide range of regional, demographic, and partisan groups. Across regions, this view is highest in Los Angeles (41%) and lowest in Orange/San Diego (24%). Since February 2020, the shares of Californians holding this view have increased across most regions (up 16 percentage points in Los Angeles, up 11 in the San Francisco Bay Area, up 10 in the Inland Empire, and up 9 in Orange/San Diego), except for the Central Valley (36% in 2020 and today).
African Americans (45%) are the most likely across racial/ethnic groups to think violence and street crime are a big problem in their community, up 10 points since 2020. Black victims made up more than a third of the 2020 increase in homicides in California, despite the fact that African Americans comprise only 6% of the state’s population. In addition, almost half of the 2020 increase in homicides involved Latino victims (Latinos comprise 39% of the state’s population); 35% of Latinos say crime is a big problem in their community, up 4 points since 2020.
Californians with a household income of under $40,000 are somewhat more likely to view crime as a big problem than those making $80,000 or more (39% vs. 31%); however, both of these groups have seen increases (9 points vs. 14 points). About one in three women (35%) and men (33%) view crime as a big problem in their community, up 9–10 points since 2020.
Differences emerge across parties, with four in ten Republicans (41%) and independents (41%) saying violence and street crime are a big problem in their community, compared with one in four Democrats (25%). Increases in the shares holding this view have also been larger among Republicans and independents (up 14 and 16, respectively) than among Democrats (up 5).
When asked to rate the job their local police are doing in controlling crime in their community, a majority of Californians say the police are doing an excellent (18%) or good (37%) job, while about four in ten say they are doing a fair (32%) or poor (11%) job. Californians are slightly less likely to give excellent or good ratings today compared to February 2020 (24% excellent, 38% good).
Views of local police vary by partisan, regional, and demographic groups. Republicans are the most likely to view police in their communities positively, while fewer Democrats and independents hold this view. Notably, opinions among Democrats and independents have fallen 5 and 10 points, respectively, since February 2020.
Views also differ across regions, with about six in ten Californians in the Central Valley, Orange/San Diego, and the Inland Empire rating police positively, compared to about half in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Positive ratings are held by six in ten whites and half of Asian Americans and Latinos, compared to roughly one in three African Americans. Positive ratings also increase with rising household income. Notably, there have been double-digit declines among Californians in Orange/San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles, as well as among African Americans, whites, and those making $40,000 or more.
Californians’ views on crime and their local police have the potential to play an important role in state and local elections this year. The PPIC Statewide Survey will continue to track perceptions and trends on this critical topic.