|SAN FRANCISCO, December 3, 2018—California’s arrest rate has declined by more than half since its peak in 1989, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In the first statewide examination of long-term trends in the state, the report finds that the demographics of who is arrested have also changed. But even as racial disparities have narrowed, African Americans today are three times more likely to be arrested than whites.
The arrest rate for California has dropped 58 percent since 1989, reaching a historic low of 3,428 per 100,000 residents in 2016. About three-fourths of the decline is due to sharp drops in misdemeanor arrest rates, especially for traffic and alcohol-related offenses. Felony arrest rates for property and drug offenses also fell substantially.
“The past four decades have seen tremendous change in the criminal justice landscape in California, and arrest rates in the state fell precipitously,” said Magnus Lofstrom, coauthor of the report and a senior fellow at PPIC. “Broadly, the trend of declining arrest rates aligns with falling crime rates over the past few decades, though there have been fluctuations year to year.”
The report describes trends in arrests between 1980 and 2016—a time of large-scale changes in state and federal criminal justice laws. It is based on arrests and citations reported monthly by law enforcement agencies to the Criminal Justice Statistics Center at the California Department of Justice. Future PPIC research will explore factors that may contribute to these trends.
The report finds:
The five counties with the highest arrest rates in 2016—including both felonies and misdemeanors—are Lake (7,906 annual arrests per 100,000 county residents), Siskiyou (6,862), Shasta (6,672), Trinity (6,559), and Butte (6,394). The lowest total arrest rates are found in Riverside (2,479), San Francisco (2,576), Santa Clara (2,603), Sacramento (2,797), and Los Angeles (2,800).
The report is titled New Insights into California Arrests: Trends Disparities, and County Differences. It is supported with funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. In addition to Lofstrom, the coauthors are PPIC research associates Brandon Martin, Justin Goss, and Joseph Hayes, and Steven Raphael, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.