There has been quite a bit in the news about crime in California. Many of the reports are alarming. But what do the data actually say? The California Attorney General’s office (AG) recently released its criminal justice statistical report for 2021. Yes, crime did increase in California last year. But there is a caveat, the rate of crime committed in 2021 for almost all crimes were significantly below the rates of crime in California 30 or so years ago.

For example, the number of homicides increased by 7.2% over the number of homicides in 2020. However, the number of homicides in California in 1993, the year of the historical high, was almost double that of 2021 (2,361 in 2021 vs. 4,095 in 1993). Similarly, the rate of all violent crimes increased 6.7% in 2021 but was substantially below the historical high in in 1992. The AG provided tables going back to 1966 (although 1980 was the first year of complete reporting). The tables, if the raw data is to be compared, shows that 2021 was nowhere near the high crime era of the 1980s and 1990s. The robbery rate, for another example, was 130,867 per 100,000 in population in 1992; it was 43,628 in 2021. In other words, the robbery rate was less than half last year as compared to the high crime year of 1992!

Those of you who lived in California in the late 80s and early 90s may recall the clamor for a “three strikes” law. Looking back at the crime rates then, it is no wonder. And indeed, California’s Three Strikes sentencing law was passed in 1994. Whether it was that law alone or in combination with other factors, or other factors altogether (demographic, for example), we can see on the AG’s tables that crime started to decrease significantly from 1995 onward, many crime rates cut in half from then to now.

So circling back to the perception of rising crime in California. Yes, it is increasing, but we are nowhere near the rates of 30 to 35 years ago. But we can’t toot our horn;  California’s violent crime rate is higher than the national average (ranking 16th nationwide).

More specific information can also be gleaned from this report. Sadly, we learn that 84% of female victims of homicide were killed by someone they know: a spouse, a friend, a relative, while 40% of men murdered were killed by a complete stranger. Counties with the highest homicide rates were Kern, Merced, and Tulare.  Among the lowest violent crimes rate are the Southern California counties of Orange, San Diego, and Ventura Counties.  Even as a low crime rate county, Orange County did see a significant increase in violent crimes (but also experienced a slight decrease in property crimes).

The data can provide useful information about the state of crime in California but remember what Mark Twain said about statistics. One thing that we can be fairly confident of though is that while crime has increased somewhat in California, we are not experiencing anywhere near the crime our state experienced 30 years ago.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg, with over 25 years’ experience defending those accused of a crime in Southern California, is available for a complimentary consultation. If you have been charged with a crime, he will review the case against you and advise you of your options free of charge. He may be contacted at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.