New Report: California Urban Crime Declined in 2020 Amid Social and Economic Upheaval

SAN FRANCISCO – June 29, 2021 – A new report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) finds that the COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to 2020’s erratic crime patterns. During this time period, some crimes increased and others declined. Overall, California’s urban crime rates fell by 7 percent from 2019 through 2020. Given the pandemic’s profound impact on the economy, social services, and community connectedness, a return to normalcy post-pandemic may also rebalance California’s crime landscape. 

California’s 2020 urban crime decline follows a decade of generally falling property and violent crime rates. From 2010 to 2020, crime rates in the state’s largest cities fell by 14 percent overall, including a 3 percent decrease in violent crime and a 16 percent decline in property crime. These declines coincided with the passage of criminal justice reforms, including Propositions 47 and 57, which have lessened penalties for low-level offenses and reduced prison and jail populations.

California urban crime rates, 2010 through 2020

Note: Total and violent offense rates exclude rape because the definition was broadened in 2014, hindering comparisons across this period.

The report finds:

Given the speed with which the pandemic shuttered schools, workplaces, and sites of community connection, 2020 offers a unique window into the effects of isolation, job loss, business failure, and collective grief on community safety. It is likely that the pandemic had complex effects, exerting both downward and upward pressures on crime statistics. To meet the current crisis, it is critical that California cities boost investment in community-based services, mental health treatment, and violence reduction programs.

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