PD Editorial: California’s crime stats are overdue

Voters worry about crime, public safety and criminal justice.|

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Voters worry about crime, public safety and criminal justice. So do state lawmakers. In fact, urban crime is cited as one reason Californians are moving out of state.

The fact that the release of the latest annual crime statistics now is well behind schedule leaves everyone to assume the worst or the best, depending on their political persuasion. Neither is a solid position from which to vote or pass laws.

In 2020, homicides in the state were up 31%. In January, the Public Policy Institute of California said early data from last year indicated a 17% increase in homicides in four cities — Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. Property crimes also rose close to pre-pandemic levels. “The need to continue monitoring crime trends, investigating underlying causes, and identifying effective solutions remains high,” the institute said.

But six months later, no one knows — at least not publicly — what California’s actual crime trends are. As CalMatters recently reported, Attorney General Rob Bonta has yet to release last year’s crime report, which since 2015 has come out in early July.

This information vacuum comes on top of the public crime statistics portal still being offline more than a month after the accidental release of the identities of concealed carry permit holders.

If the new and old data remain unavailable much longer, it almost starts to look like the Democratic powers that be don’t want the crime details to come out as campaign season begins. Republicans certainly would use bad numbers in campaign ads.

Democrat Bonta, who heads the California Department of Justice, is seeking election in November after being appointed attorney general in 2021.

A spokesperson from his office told CalMatters that they were working to get the reports out “as quickly as possible.” The spokesperson said the office is helping law enforcement agencies upgrade records management systems for submitting crime data into the enhanced federal crime database. That transition reportedly has affected the 2021 data collection and release of annual crime reports.

Yet in late June, Bonta did announce last year’s alarming 33% increase in reported hate crimes. So it seems the Department of Justice was able to obtain data that Democrats want to highlight, although that report is among the ones currently unavailable online. Anyone clicking on the “Hate Crime in California — 2021” link will get the message, “The requested URL was not found on this server.”

Bonta’s folks also say they’re trying to get the data portal back online as soon as possible, but they offer no timetable.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is in its final weeks at the Capitol and must make policy decisions, including about criminal justice reforms. As Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, wrote to Bonta on Aug. 1, “Legislators, researchers, local agencies and our constituents rely on this data to make informed policy decisions about crime and public safety in California.”

Data is an imperfect indicator, and crime statistics certainly carry their own set of cautions against jumping to conclusions. But data is more helpful than anecdotal observations alone. Bonta needs to act with greater urgency to provide annual crime data to lawmakers and the public.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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