By Mike Rushford
Statistics from the FBI, documenting national and state crimes over the first six months of 2012, indicate that after years of declining crime rates, California is experiencing significant increases in every category of reported crime, including a 7.6% increase in homicide and double-digit increases in burglary and auto theft. While the report only counted crimes in cities with populations of 100,000 or more, the California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation cited the increases as evidence of a trend which many in law enforcement saw coming.
“We have been following news stories reporting on crime across the state since March 2012 to determine the impact that Realignment (AB109), which lowered the consequences for thousands of felons, is having on public safety,” said Foundation President Michael Rushford. “Although it seemed clear our state was experiencing increases in crime throughout last year, the state officials and academics who had encouraged the sentencing alternatives kept telling us that Realignment was working and that those reporting increased crime were fearmongers,” he added.
The FBI report indicates that between January and June 2012, the national rate of violent crime rose by 1.9%, compared to the first six months of 2011. Property crime over the same period increased by 1.5%. Violent crime in California increased at more than twice the national rate, rising 4% while the rise in property crime was six times higher at 9%. The report showed the highest crime increases in the West, driven by significant rises for most or all crimes in California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada, while Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Texas experienced either minor increases or reductions in most categories.
While comparisons between states can be simplistic, there are inferences that can be taken by narrowing the criteria. A comparison with Florida and Texas (which, like California, have large diverse populations, dynamic economies and long national borders) shows the increase in the rate of violent crime in the Golden State was two and a half times higher than Texas and seven times higher than Florida. While both Florida and Texas have been experimenting with alternative sentencing for juveniles and some drug offenders, both have significantly higher incarceration rates than California, and neither has implemented the sweeping sentencing reforms required under California’s Realignment, which took effect in October 2011. New York and Washington State, on the other hand, have been engaged in large-scale alternative sentencing for several years. Both experienced a spike in violent crime similar to California’s along with increases in nearly all categories of property crime.
“This report tends to confirm what police chiefs, sheriffs, parole officers, and even some judges have been warning us about over the past year. Crime in California is increasing under Realignment,” said Rushford. “With the enthusiastic support of the Legislature, Governor Jerry Brown has traded the safety of law-abiding Californians for some mostly illusory, short-term savings. Until major changes are made to Realignment, we can expect excuses and rhetoric from the Administration and even greater increases in crime with each successive report,” he added.