A broken window is shown in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 11, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
While statistics show alarming increases for some crimes in California, the number of unreported criminal incidents likely leaves official numbers far below actual levels, according to law enforcement and some residents.
Crimes often aren’t reported because of complicated relationships with authorities and a lack of faith in the process, experts say.
“There’s crime in terms of what’s reported versus crime that actually occurred versus arrests that are actually made for those crimes,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson told The Epoch Times. “It’s probably more than what people are sensing because of the practical reality of changes in the law dissuading people from making reports.”
With the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014—approved by voters with the intention of lowering prison populations by reducing certain crimes and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors—arrests have decreased while some crimes have continued to escalate, he said.
“Over the last eight or nine years, in the state of California, we have largely decriminalized low-level property crimes,” Mr. Pierson said. “While the narrative might be that things are not so bad ... if you’re a victim of a crime, it seems bad to you.”
Some blame the state Legislature for failing to act on the issue, consequently allowing criminal justice reform measures to contribute to criminal activity.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson addresses members of the press at El Dorado County Superior Court in Placerville, Calif., on Sept. 19, 2014. (The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton/AP Photo)
“The Legislature has again and again proven that they are unable or unwilling to take crime seriously,” Mr. Pierson said. “There’s no incentive to report crimes, and it’s very misleading to say we’re looking at reported crimes and they’re down or flat.”
Discrepancies in reported vehicle thefts, with California Department of Justice figures totaling 10 percent less than those reported by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, suggest that other figures are inaccurate, according to the district attorney.
“Even though we know that vehicle theft reports are more accurate to law enforcement agencies because of insurance requirements, they’re still off by 10 percent,” Mr. Pierson said.
While incidents of retail theft plaguing major metropolitan areas this year have received public attention, with videos depicting flash mob-style smash and grabs at luxury stores, most retail theft goes unreported, with many employers advising workers to avoid confrontations with potentially violent, mentally ill criminals or those under the influence of drugs.
“The practical reality of it is that a large number of retailers have either completely discontinued reporting to law enforcement or have greatly reduced how frequently they report thefts,” Mr. Pierson said. “Most of the property crime that occurs is somewhat hidden.”
Victims are also often disincentivized from reporting crimes because of a lack of police response, he said.
“Most law enforcement agencies aren’t even going to respond if called. If they do respond, at most they will issue a citation,” he said.
Residents of some cities told The Epoch Times they’ve been placed on hold when calling 911—for as long as two hours—and referred to a lengthy process for complainants that ultimately saw criminals promptly released. Both, they said, are deterring some from calling the police.
An Oakland Police patrol car sits in front of the police headquarters in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 6, 2012. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
“It can take up your whole day waiting for someone to respond, answering questions, and then nothing happens,” Oakland resident Marcus Scott said. “We recognize the people stealing and breaking into cars. If they get caught, they’re right back out.”
More than 8,000 vehicles were stolen in Oakland in the first half of 2023, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2022, according to a July report titled “Crime Trends in U.S. Cities” by the Council on Criminal Justice, a Washington-based think tank. Another 8,000 were broken into, a 44 percent spike from the year before. In total, more than 26,000 crimes were reported from January through June.
Community members say that the actual amount is much higher and suggest that a lack of deterrence is leading to more crime.
“It never used to be like this,” Mr. Scott said. “There’s always going to be crime in any big city, but this is too much right now. Criminals are running free, and people don’t feel safe.”
Additionally, some say they’re avoiding conflict by not reporting incidents.
“I don’t want to risk retaliation or something happening to my kids or family,” Juana Ruiz, who lives in Alameda with her family and works in San Francisco, told The Epoch Times. “We just try to keep to ourselves and not get involved with what’s happening out there.”
Over the past two years, commuting to work and shopping with her family has become less safe and more difficult, she said.
“It’s unbelievable the way people are breaking into cars, camping in the street, and stealing from stores,” Ms. Ruiz said. “And all the drugs and needles on the ground. It makes me scared for my children.”
A man camps out in a street in San Francisco on Feb. 23, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
More police officers are needed in many locations across the Golden State to meet demand and respond to calls in a timely manner, according to law enforcement.
“People have stopped calling due to officers being understaffed and overburdened,” Deon Joseph, an officer of more than 25 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Aug. 20. “By the time many officers get to a call, the victim and suspects are gone.”
Once suspects are apprehended, low or no bail policies and soft punitive measures result in limited enforcement, he said.
“People know the criminals we arrest will get out before the ink dries on our reports so they are losing hope,” he wrote. “It’s the laws, poor policies and irresponsible legislators. The system is a mess.”
Given the situation in which criminals are incentivized by reduced risk of prosecution and victims are hesitant to report crimes, communities need to pressure politicians to reverse course on criminal justice reform and help rebuild police agencies by applying for jobs, he said.
“Two fixes; reverse these criminal friendly laws and join the police department,” he wrote. “Your cities need you. Stop complaining and come help us.”