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Crime in the United States and California, 2011-2015


Since 2011, California has gone further than other states in the rapid dismantling of its tough-on-crime policies, so we have been keeping track of California crime rates as compared with the nation as a whole.  Here are graphs showing 2011 to 2015 with data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.*

The "realignment" bill, AB109, took effect in October 2011, and one would not expect much effect in the first couple of months.  So we can consider 2011 to be a base year.  California shows a jump in violent crime the following year while the rate for the country as a whole was essentially flat.  California had a sharp jump in property crime for 2012, while the national rate was declining.
In 2013, national violent and property crime rates declined, and California rates moved in parallel.  Over the two-year period 2011-2013, the nation saw a drop in both rates, but California did not participate in that drop, ending the period about where it began.

2014 was a good year for property crime rates.  Both the national and California rates dropped significantly.  Violent crimes rates, however, were close to flat, with about a 0.8% increase nationally and a 1.5% decrease in California.  Over the three year period 2011 to 2014, California's violent crime rate relative to the country as a whole was essentially unchanged, a little over 6% higher at the beginning and end of the period. 

For property crimes, though, California had significantly worsened relative to the nation as whole from 2011 to 2014.  The California rate had begun the period significantly lower than the national rate but was close to parity at the end.  Given AB109's focus on property and drug offenders, a greater effect on property crime rates is not too surprising. 

Proposition 47 was approved by the voters in November 2014, so this was the last year with AB109 effects but no substantial Proposition 47 effects.

In 2015, the national violent crime rate went up 3%, while California's went up a 7.5%.  This is a large and worrisome increase for a single year.  The national increase could be due in part to the "Ferguson effect," but it seems something worse is happening in California.  For property crimes, the national rate continued its monotonic decline, dropping 3.4%, while California had a sharp 7.2% increase.

Over the full period of 2011 to 2015, the violent crime rate for the country as a whole ended just 1% below where it began, with the late increase nearly eliminating the earlier progress.  California ended with a 3.7% increase, or 4.7% worse than the country as a whole.

For property crimes, the United States saw a continued, steady decline, ending the period more than 14% below where it began.  Californians did not share in this decline, but instead ended about where we began, with a 1% increase.  At the beginning of the period, California had a property crime rate 11% below the national rate, and by the end the state rate was 5% above the national.

Correlation does not, of course, prove causation, so we need to ask if any other reason explains the divergence in the state and national rates.  Random fluctuation is one possibility, and that was the chorus following the initial jump in 2012.  The longer this goes on, though, the thinner that explanation becomes, and it is positively threadbare by this point.

As a matter of common sense, we would expect reduced punishment of criminals to result in an increase in crime, and where the reductions are focused on those in prison for property offenses, we would expect the result to be greater in property crimes.  That appears to be exactly what is happening.  Unless and until there is convincing evidence to the contrary, we should proceed on the understanding that what common sense tells us is indeed true.

* 2011 and 2012 data are from UCR Data Online, retrieved 7/31/2016
2013 data are from FBI, Crime in the United States 2014
2014 & 2015 data are from FBI, Crime in the United States 2015


I took a quick look at the UCR Data Online. It looks like California's violent crime rate has exceeded the National violent crime rate almost very year since 1960. Am I reading these statistics correctly? If so, anyone ever tried to determine why California (since at least 1960) has had a higher violent crime rate than the Nation as a whole?

A question: Do you know if the CHANGE in California's violent crime rate has tracked the change in the national violent crime rate over, say, the last 20 or 25 years?

If I am reading the stats correctly (a questionable proposition), I believe that since 1960 there were years where California's violent crime rate climed faster than the national rate (as appears to be the case in the last few years) and years where the national vcr climed faster than California's.

If you have an accurate answer to your question, please post it.

Anyway, in speaking with my law enforcement friends, I am told that it is their sense (working in the real world of crime prevention) that there has been a dramatic rise in all crime in California following the passage of AB109.

Sometimes the stats don't tell the full story.

The best work on long-term violent crime trends, by far, is Barry Latzer, The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America. Don't go there looking for simple answers, though. It's complicated.

Indeed the official stats do not tell the whole story. A major shortcoming of the UCR is that it includes only crimes known to the police. The percentages of crime reported vary by crime, by locality, and by year.

"Only crimes known to the police."

Common sense would support the notion (unprovable as it may be) that many criminals caught by the cops have committed many additional crimes for which they avoided apprehension, especially if they are arrested for having committed a series of similar crimes.

So, yes, the stats (from whatever source) only tell a very small part of the story.

I also tend to question the accuracy of stats which rely upon input from persons who might have an incentive to skew the results.

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