Newly released national crime numbers from the FBI show that, amid an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, trends in California’s crime rate last year mostly mirrored national trends—with some key differences. While the state’s violent crime rate declined somewhat in 2020, the nation saw an increase, though homicides jumped both nationwide and in the state. In California, aggravated assaults also increased, while robberies went down. California saw a similar decline in the property crime rate last year as the nation overall.
Here we compare changes in California’s and the nation’s crime rates in 2020 while also considering long-term trends since 2000.
Trends in California’s violent crime rate since 2000 broadly mirror trends in the nationwide rate. However, the state saw greater declines in the first decade of 2000, and in 2020 the state saw a drop in violent crime while the nation overall experienced an increase of about 5%. Today, while the state’s violent crime rate is still above the national rate, the gap has dropped by half, from about 20% higher in California to 10% higher. Both California’s and the nation’s violent crime rates are now roughly where they were a decade ago.
California’s historically large and troubling 30% jump in homicides matches the national increase. This increase in the number of homicides is the largest since reliable record keeping began in 1960. Looking at the past twenty years, the state’s homicide rate dropped below the nation’s for the first time in 2015 and continues to remain below the nationwide rate. In 2020, California’s rate is 11% below what it was in 2000 (down from 6.1 homicides per 100,000 residents to 5.4), while the nationwide rate is up by about 18% (from 5.5 to 6.5).
California’s 9% drop in the property crime rate in 2020 is just slightly greater than the nationwide decline of 8%. While California’s property crime rate is now significantly below what it was in 2000, down by 32%, this is less than the nationwide drop of about 50%. This is due to statewide increases in 2012 and 2015, while the nation has seen drops every year since 2001. As a result, since 2015, California’s property crime rate has been about 6% higher than the nationwide rate.
Since 2000, California has implemented many criminal justice reforms. No research to date has linked any of these reforms to changes in violent crime, but they have been found to be contributing factors to coinciding temporary increases in auto theft and larceny.
While the dramatic increases in homicides and gun-related violent crime in 2020 are troubling, the state fares relatively well when we compare trends in violent crime rates from 2000 to 2020. However, the pandemic brought broad changes and challenges to our society and our criminal justice systems, including policing, courts, and correctional systems. Monitoring crime trends and understanding the underlying factors driving crime rates continue to be of great importance.