Report: Felony arrests down in San Diego County, Prop. 47 a factor

Dana Littlefield
San Diego Union Tribune
January 18, 2017

A study of arrest rates for adults in San Diego County in 2015 shows that felonies were down 28 percent from the previous year and misdemeanors were up 13 percent, according to a report by the San Diego Association of Governments.

The annual report, released this week, looked at arrests among adults and juveniles and found that the number of adult felony arrests was down in most local jurisdictions, with decreases ranging from 6 percent in Chula Vista to 40 percent in Santee.

As for misdemeanors, most jurisdictions reported increases in adult arrests ranging from less than 1 percent in Del Mar to 63 percent in Lemon Grove. Felony arrests for juveniles dropped last year by 29 percent, and misdemeanor arrests decreased by 15 percent. 

Some of those changes are likely explained by Proposition 47, which California voters approved in 2014. It reduced certain felonies — including simple drug possession and some property crimes — to misdemeanors. The statistics outlined in the report reflect the first full year of arrest data after Proposition 47 took effect.

Cynthia Burke, director of SANDAG’s Criminal Research Division, said she and her researchers expected these trends in the data, specifically for property- and drug-related crimes, but she wasn’t ready to draw conclusions about how the measure is working.

“Drug use is a public health and a public safety issue,” Burke said, adding that the challenge now is figuring out how to get more people who suffer from drug addiction to the rehabilitation programs they need, whether they be court-mandated or voluntary.

According to the report, 25 percent of adult felony arrests in San Diego County in 2014 were for drug crimes and 52 percent were for property crimes, compared to 10 percent and 34 percent last year.

SANDAG also reported double-digit differences in arrests over one year for certain crimes including felony burglary and larceny, and increases in misdemeanor petty theft and burglary, 

Overall, San Diego County had the second highest arrest rate last year, behind San Bernardino County, for adults and juveniles compared to the other four largest counties in the state. Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, in that order, trailed San Diego in arrest rates for adults. 

Juvenile arrest rates continue to decline in the region. Last year, the rate of 19.4 percent represented an 18 percent decrease from the previous year. It was 53 percent lower than the rate for juveniles four years earlier.

“I think that speaks to some of our preventative efforts,” Burke said. “I think the system has worked to keep kids out of (Juvenile) Hall.”

Last year, the crimes for which juveniles in the county were most often arrested included misdemeanor petty theft, curfew violations, misdemeanor assault, and battery and felony
aggravated assault.

Adults in the county were arrested most frequently for misdemeanor drug offenses, misdemeanor drunken driving, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor petty theft.