Crime in California v. Rest of United States

For several years now, I have been tracking the crime rates reported in the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report. The 2016 post, with notes on the data, is here. The 2018 post is here. For an earlier look at regions, rather than states, see this post from 2014.
For the current report — data for the first half of 2018 versus the first half of 2017 in cities over 100,000 population — we once again see that California compares unfavorably with the rest of the country. This year, though, the year-to-year change is only worse in violent crimes, not property crimes.
For property crimes, there was no significant difference between the California cities in the sample and those in the rest of the country, a 5.1% drop for the former, and a 4.9% drop in the latter. This confirms that the trend I noted with full-year, state-total data in this post last year, that there was a shift in the relative rates after Realignment and Proposition 47, but since then California has tracked the trend of the rest of the country, though at its new, higher level.
For violent crimes, the California cities in the sample had essentially no change, a drop of 0.6%, while the comparable cities in the rest of the country enjoyed a continuing decline of 4.9%.
Once again, the proponents of releasing more criminals can half-truthfully say that their so-called “reforms” have not been followed by an increase in crime, but the whole truth is that California is missing out on the drop seen by the rest of the country.
It is true, of course, that California is not the only state softening its incarceration policies, but it has gone further than other states in this regard. According to “reform” advocate John Pfaff, the national drop in prisoners has been “pretty small” and two-thirds of it has been in California. (Locked In, p. 111.) Thus if more severe cuts cause increased crime, we would expect to see California do worse than the rest of the country, and that is indeed what we see.
Why has California’s higher relative property crime rate plateaued while the violent crime rate continues to separate further from the national rate? It could be a one-year glitch. We must be careful not to make too much of a single year’s numbers. However, it could be that Realignment and Proposition 47 cause their damage primarily in property crimes, that damage is done, and the permanent shift is now complete, while Proposition 57 causes more damage in violent crime area. Prop. 57 was dishonestly sold to the people as a measure for “nonviolent offenders,” but it includes people with violent records whose present offense of conviction is “nonviolent.” It necessarily applied more to harder-core criminals, because the low-hanging fruit had already been picked by the earlier measures.
So here are some more numbers that tend to confirm what common sense would lead us to expect. I don’t claim them as hard proof, but the burden of proof is on those who assert counter-intuitive propositions like “We can improve public safety by releasing more criminals sooner.” Common sense isn’t always right, but it usually is, and contradicting it requires compelling proof. I’m not seeing it.


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