COAST CITIES — Within the first six months of 2012, violent crime and property crime incidents increased throughout San Diego County compared to 2011, most notably in Carlsbad with a 73 percent increase in violent crime, according to statistics released by the FBI in January. Local law enforcement stated that the increase could be attributed to any number of reasons, including the unsteady economy, a new California sentencing guideline for nonviolent offenders, and increased neighborhood patrols.
Yet crime experts caution against assuming that violent crime and property crime rose drastically given how small crime numbers and small city populations result in large percentages.
The FBI collected the numbers of violent crimes reported and responded to from law enforcement agencies throughout the county as part of its Uniform Crime Report data, according to the FBI’s website. The FBI releases the data in several reports each year, and uses it to “present a nationwide view of crime” for law enforcement, researchers, and the media and public.
Statistics showed crime increased in Oceanside and Carlsbad during January through June of 2012, compared to the same time in 2011. In Carlsbad, violent crime increased by 73 percent and property crime increased by 8.14 percent, while in Oceanside, violent grew by 9.63 percent and property crime by 4.88 percent.
Carlsbad’s total violent crime jumped to 137 during the first half of last year from 79 the year before, according to the FBI data. Most of the violent crime increase in the city is due to an up tick in aggravated assaults, from 59 in 2011 to 104 in 2012, and forcible rapes, from four in 2011 to 15 in 2012.
“As SANDAG wrote when commenting on the countywide increase, ‘It is impossible to attribute the increase to one cause,’” said Carlsbad Police Public Information Officer Jodee Sasway.
In Oceanside, violent crimes rose from 301 in 2011 to 330 in 2012, mainly resulting from an increase in aggravated assaults from 183 to 226.
Oceanside Police Communications Officer Lt. Leonard Mata said that, “This increase appears to be part of a much wider trend, and is not limited to local issues. Last year, violent crime at the nationwide level showed an increase for the first time.”
“This is not to say we shouldn’t be looking for ways to counteract that increase, but there may be reasons for the rise in crime we don’t fully understand yet,” he added.
Mata said police have noticed a few trends within the city that have affected crime numbers.
He said that during recent years, the Oceanside Police Department has experienced an increase in crime reporting because of its efforts to be more strategic about where police are placed out in the field.
“As we have deployed additional resources to neighborhoods affected by rising crime, we…(do) see more citizens stepping forward to report crimes. With more boots on the ground, we are also more likely to see officers interceding in events as they unfold, which also produces additional crime reports. This is a good thing, despite the fact it shows up as an increase in reported crime,” he said.
“(The Oceanside Police Department has) been putting a lot of extra officers in the neighborhoods through grant-funded (officer) overtime and through our gang suppression unit by assigning more officers to that unit,” said Steve Walter, a senior crime analyst for the Oceanside Police. Consequently, violent crimes have been more likely to be reported to the police, he said.
Sasway said that residents’ inclination to report crime or the number of officers on patrol do not play a factor in the violent crime numbers in Carlsbad.
“There is no way to know if Carlsbad residents are suddenly more inclined to report crime,” said Sasway, noting that the city has not introduced any new crime reporting programs or methods for citizens over the past couple of years.
She also added that the number of police officers on patrol, which remained the same between the two time periods, does not affect the numbers either.
“We respond to every call for service. Thus the number of reports or calls for service would not necessarily be affected by the number of officers,” said Sasway.
But she did suggest that the economy may have had contributed to the increase in some categories.
“It is thought that stressors like an uncertain economy lead to an increase in categories like aggravated assault,” said Sasway.
Commenting on the rape statistics, she said, “It is important to note that the reported rapes are not stranger crimes but crimes that occurred between people that were acquainted in some fashion. There are also many variables that affect this category. For example, a rape reported this year may have occurred several years ago.”
According to Mata, Oceanside’s aggravated assault totals are difficult to draw conclusions from, mainly because the category consists of a wide-range of crime from domestic violence to gang crimes.
Statistics show that the city’s bump in property crime can be attributed to a rise in motor vehicle theft, up from 143 in 2011 to 227 in 2012, which Mata said may be caused by California’s prisoner realignment bill AB 109.
“We are actually seeing a substantial increase in property crime activity,” said Mata. “Although it is difficult to measure, it is our belief that the increase in property crime can be attributed, in part, to the state’s prisoner realignment program, AB 109. This program is built around the idea that ‘non-violent’ offenders should serve shorter sentences in order to relieve the prison population. Therefore, it is not surprising to see an increase in property crime such as auto theft.”
“We don’t have a lot of concrete data to turn to (in order) to measure the effects of AB 109,” said Walter. But he said that the new program more than likely has affected crime in Oceanside.
“We do know that we have a high number of AB 109 probationers in the city and we do know our officers are encountering them every day,” said Walter.
About the program’s influence in Carlsbad, Sasway said, “All I can say about AB109 is that there is not enough statistical research to comment. SANDAG noted it is something they wanted to track.”
Additionally, Sasway and the FBI advised against making assumptions about crimes based on the city’s percentages.
“It’s easy for people to think there is more to (the crime rates) than there is, but if you take a step back and look at the numbers…it might put it more in context,” said FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, pointing out the small numbers of crime and small city populations in the report.
While Carlsbad experienced 58 more violent crimes in 2012, a 73 percent increase, the city’s numbers do not come close to the amount of violent crime in other parts of the county. Escondido has only a slightly larger population than Carlsbad, yet its violent crime rate during the same time period rose from 230 to 307.
Foxworth added that the statistics are just a small snapshot in time and are not intended to cause “undue concern.”
“When it comes to statistics, especially percentages, it is important to have perspective. When traditionally statistics are low, an increase creates a larger percentage,” said Sasway. “Also, crime rates in 2011 reflected a 30-year low.”
But in light of this information, law enforcement recommend that the public take it as an extra reminder to be cautious and take steps to prevent crime.
“It is good to be aware of what the crime problem is and take steps that you don’t become a victim of a particular crime,” said Foxworth, advising that people take extra steps like locking their cars to reduce the chances of auto theft.