Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 3rd, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 1

Sheriff's Office data shows spike in serious crimes in 2020

By Kasey Bubnash

Serious crimes in Santa Barbara County jumped by 18 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to crime statistics recently released by the Sheriff’s Office. That means last year’s rates of serious crime were 3 percent higher than the preceding 10-year average. 

Although Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said it’s hard to know what factors might have led to the spike in serious crime in 2020, he said increases in some specific categories of crime are “cause for concern.” 

“We have to be aware that there have been some pretty significant changes in the criminal justice system as a result of the COVID pandemic,” Brown told the Sun. “And the question arises: Are those changes—particularly the reduction of the number of people that we have in jail—is that translating into some additional crime that’s occurring?”

Graphs from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office show changes in serious property and violent crimes throughout the years.

A report released by the Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 19 shows that reported violent crimes (criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) increased by about 7 percent, from 303 reports in 2019 to 323 in 2020. Despite a 71 percent increase in reported rapes and a 30 percent spike in burglaries compared to 2019, 2020’s serious violent crime rates remained 9 percent lower than the preceding 10-year average. Reports of serious property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft) also jumped by 20 percent between 2019 and 2020, from 2,167 reports to 2,591. That’s 5 percent higher than the 10-year average. A 73 percent increase in vehicle thefts and a 138 percent spike in arson stand out as the most significant jumps in local serious property crime. 

At the same time, Santa Barbara County experienced a 15 percent decrease in reports of less serious crime between 2019 and 2020. Aside from a 17 percent increase in driving under the influence violations and a 28 percent increase in disorderly conduct, the Sheriff’s Office said reports of almost all lesser crimes decreased or remained about the same in 2020 compared to 2019.

Some of these trends were noticeable even before the pandemic, and Brown said they could be the result of other shifts in the criminal justice system, like the decriminalization of marijuana and longtime efforts to reduce the state’s jail population. Other spikes, Brown said, could be the result of emergency orders aimed at decreasing populations amid the pandemic in an effort the prevent the mass COVID-19 outbreaks among both inmates and staff that have been common throughout the nation since March 2020. 

In April, the Judicial Council of California adopted a statewide emergency bail schedule that set bail at $0 for most people accused—but not yet tried—of misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Though the council rescinded its order in the summer as the state started to reopen, courts in a number of counties, including both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, extended their “zero bail” schedules locally.

But Brown said a significant number of those released on zero bail are caught reoffending. Since March 18, 2020, Santa Barbara County has released 1,263 inmates from jail and 261 of them were rearrested. Depending on the offense, some who reoffend while out on zero bail could still be eligible for zero bail again. 

Still, Brown said crime statistics vary from year to year and it can be hard to pin down clear correlations. The Sheriff’s Office is still analyzing 2020’s data. 

“We’re looking at this crime data and we’re trying to find ways to balance, like everything else in life, maintaining public safety by targeting certain types of crimes and criminals and making sure that we protect the public to the extent that we can,” Brown said. “But also we recognize that we need to hold offenders accountable through alternative means to putting them in jail.” 

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