Study: San Diego, California crime rates rise back from pandemic lows

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego is prominently featured in a new study highlighting California’s rise in both property and violent crimes in 2021, though policy experts note that overall crime rates are similar to pre-pandemic levels.

The analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California comes during a time of increased scrutiny on crime in the Golden State, especially a recent spate of smash-and-grab or “flash mob” robberies that have inspired some tough-on-crime rhetoric from elected officials.

The study looked at four cities — Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco in addition to San Diego — where crimes in both categories have risen since the previous year.

Violent crimes — defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — rose in all four cities by an average of 5% compared to the previous year, ranging from close to 17% in Oakland to just 1% in Los Angeles. In San Diego, the increase was 8.1%.

Charting the number of reported property and violent crimes based on data downloaded from four major California city’s crime data websites. (Courtesy: Public Policy Institute of California, Dec. 2021)

Most notably, the authors said, homicides rose by 17% despite being one of the few crimes that also increased in 2020. In June, San Diego police called for an end to a “disturbing surge” of violent crimes in the city, including an increase in gang shootings.

“In the first few months of the pandemic, the monthly number of violent crimes dropped notably; it then rose to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2020 and declined again until early 2021,” the analysts explain. “After that, violent crime increased from about 8,000–8,500 per month to around 9,500–10,000.”

On a more hopeful note, the study points out that the number of both homicides and aggravated assaults has trended downward in the four cities in recent months, including from September to October, which was included in the study’s timeframe.

In 2020, property crime in California reached its lowest level since 1960, but it has also trended upward in the four cities in 2021. The crime category — defined as burglary, larceny and vehicle theft — rose nearly 7%, ranging from about a 3% bump in L.A. to 13% in Oakland, according to the analysis.

In San Diego, the property crime increase was 6.1%.

A jump in car break-ins led the way, rising by 21% and returning to pre-pandemic levels by October of this year. Vehicle theft also rose by 10%, which the policy group says is notable, because that’s a crime that actually rose in 2020 as well.

Charting the number of reported property crimes based on data downloaded from four major California city’s crime data websites. (Courtesy: Public Policy Institute of California, Dec. 2021)

The study’s authors, Magnus Lofstrom and Brandon Martin, cautioned against taking the overall trend out of context considering the — yes, “unprecedented” — nature of the coronavirus pandemic. Crime around California remains considerably lower than, for example, the heights of the 1990s.

“While this news is disconcerting, it is worth noting that overall reported violent and property crimes are now similar to pre-pandemic levels; property crime was at a historic low in 2020, and violent crime was relatively low as well, similar to levels of the late 1960s,” the analysts wrote.

Regardless, crime in California is likely to remain a political lightning rod. More conservative voices in the state have been quick to argue that criminal justice reforms that reduced penalties for certain offenses have emboldened criminals. California’s left-leaning Democrats have also toughened their rhetoric around recent brazen retail thefts.

But the issues contributing to crime rates are complicated, and, as Voice of San Diego reports, some local community activists argue that better trust in law enforcement is the path forward, not a more punitive approach.

State policy thinkers will continue to closely monitor trends in the months ahead. To read more about the PPIC study, you can visit the Public Policy Institute of California’s website.

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