Crime, policing, and community relations are subject to heated debate, but little is known about the first step in the criminal justice process: arrests. Who is arrested in California and what are they arrested for? How have arrest patterns changed over time and how do they differ across the state? Last week in Sacramento, PPIC researcher Magnus Lofstrom outlined findings from a new report and Brandon Martin—a PPIC research associate—moderated a panel discussion that put these trends in the context of state legislation and local police-community relations.
The PPIC report finds that overall arrest rates have dropped dramatically over the past few decades, largely due to declines in misdemeanor arrests. While there have been significant declines in arrests among juveniles and young adults, men, and African Americans, arrestees still tend to be younger, male, and nonwhite. After presenting these and other key findings, Lofstrom stressed that “this report raises more questions than it answers.” Future research, he said, will explore the factors that contribute to trends and differences in arrest rates across demographic groups and jurisdictions across the state. It will also look at the impact of recent criminal justice reforms.
The panelists focused on the importance of addressing the larger issue of long-term trust between law enforcement and the communities it serves. Gabriel Caswell, counsel to the California Senate Public Safety Committee, said that recent reforms such as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act have tried to strike a balance between officer safety and community transparency: “If the community has at least somewhat more access than they’ve been given historically, I think that will go a long way toward rebuilding trust.”
Marisa Arrona, local safety solutions project director for Californians for Safety and Justice, highlighted efforts to shift from reactive policing to the Blueprint for Shared Safety: “Shared safety is more than the absence of crime; it’s got to be the presence of well-being.” Instead of assessing safety only through crime rates, communities can also use other measures, such as harm reduction among vulnerable populations, access to victim services, or the number of former offenders who have access to jobs.
Daniel Hahn, Sacramento police chief, also cautioned against relying exclusively on crime numbers: “You’ve got to be very careful of what’s behind the numbers and make sure it’s actually meaningful to the community.” He stressed the need to look beyond simple solutions. In order to build trust between police and the communities, he added, “We gotta change the way we hire, change the way we train, include the community in the police department and the police department in the community.”