The California Attorney General is responsible for collecting and analyzing yearly crime data for the State of California. Guess what? Crime is down in California – way down! According to the Attorney General’s statistics for the most recent year studied (2014) crime has decreased in number and rate in almost every category. Some crimes have seen big rate decreases (per 100,000 population) from 2013 and when compared to earlier, the declines are even more pronounced. In fact, 2014’s violent crime rate is at its lowest since 1967!

If we compare the crime rates from 2009 to 2014, the decreases in some categories are dramatic. For example, the homicide rate has decreased 17 percent from 2009 to 2014, robbery has decreased in the same years by a whopping 26.8percent! In fact, for all the major violent crime categories (homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and major property crime categories (burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny) the rates have decreased substantially. Compared to 2013, all crime rates contimued to decrease in 2014 except aggravated assault, which saw a 2.4 percent rate increase.

So what could account for this continuing decrease in crime in the state? Is it better policing, more criminals imprisoned, an aging population? There is no easy answer to why the crime rates are declining. And this is occurring not just in California, but across the country.

A study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law examined 14 popular theories for the decreasing crime rates over the past two decades:

  • Increased incarceration
  • Increased number of police officers
  • The introduction of CompStat (statistical policing strategies)
  • Threat of the death penalty
  • Enactment of “right-to-carry” gun laws
  • Decreasing unemployment
  • Rising wages
  • Inflation
  • Increased consumer confidence
  • Aging population
  • Decreasing alcohol consumption
  • Decreasing crack use
  • Legalized abortion
  • Decreased lead in gasoline

The study concluded that none of these theories, even adding them all together, can explain the majority of the decrease. The study concluded that there is “a vast web of factors, often complex, often interacting, and some unexpected” that explain the decrease. One of the theories, the introduction of CompStat, proved to have a greater influence on the decrease in crime than the others, but the effect was still determined to be minimal (5 to 15 percent).

The reasons for the dramatic crime decrease may be puzzling, but the phenomenon is certainly welcome. Those of a certain age can remember when many cities were almost unlivable because crime was so prevalent. Even In U.S. cities known to be high crime cities, the rates have been on a downward trend. In the major California cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, the rates of propety and violent crime are on a markedly downward tragetory since 1990.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but maybe we have become a more mature and peaceful society. Or maybe police technology has surpassed the criminal wit. Whatever the reason for the decrease in crime, let’s hope it is a trend that here to stay.