Since 1930, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program has collected data on crimes reported to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Recently, the FBI released data on crime in 2016. These data likely underestimate the total number of crimes that have actually occurred. This is because they do not include unreported crime, and some reported crimes—including all drug crime—are excluded. Despite these limitations, the UCR data provide useful metrics for tracking changes in crime rates over time. Below, we present crime trends in California and show how California compares to nationwide trends.
In 2016, about 3,000 crimes were reported in California per 100,000 residents—a total of about 1.2 million incidents. Of these crimes, 85 percent were property and 15 percent were violent crimes. As shown in Figure 1, between 2015 and 2016, California’s property crime rate declined by 2.5 percent and its violent crime rate increased by 4.5 percent. Overall, California experienced a 1.5 percent reduction in the total crime rate. While it is possible that some of these changes are driven by California-specific factors—such as the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced the penalties for various crimes—it is likely that much of these changes are driven by other factors that apply nationally. This is because the nation as a whole experienced similar trends as California. Specifically, between 2015 and 2016, the nationwide property crime rate declined by 2 percent, while the violent crime rate increased by 3.4 percent. Similar to California, the country experienced a 1.3 percent decrease in overall crime.
It is important to note that recent fluctuations in California’s crime rate are in the context of long-term declines in both property and violent crime. Today’s crime rates remain well below historical levels. As shown in Figure 2, California has experienced a significant decline in the property crime rate since 1980 and in the violent crime rate since 1992. Between 1980 and 2016, the state’s overall crime rate declined by 62 percent.
As shown in Figure 3, California’s violent crime rate has been higher than the national average over the past several decades but remains much closer to the national average than it was previously.
As shown in Figure 4, California’s property crime rate has been similar to the national average in recent years.