What the New California Crime Stats Show

California 25207746234 e781694431 o

On July 1, Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office released the State of California’s 2023 crime statistics. The report shows that, despite the fact that law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice had six months to produce useful statistics, significant gaps remain.

Among the key findings:

  • Violent Crime: Violent crime increased by 3.3% compared to 2022 levels.
  • Property Crime: Property crime decreased by 1.3%, but thefts and property crimes have actually increased according to victimization surveys and industry reports.
  • Underreported Crime: 28 law enforcement agencies did not report their statistics, potentially leading to a significant undercounting of crime.  Cities also may not be releasing fully accurate data, case in point being the recent investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle concluding that the City of Oakland police data “overstated improvements actually seen on the streets” and “compare incomplete year-to-date figures from the current year to complete year-to-date figures from past years.”
  • Overdose Deaths: While not included in the report, overdose deaths continue despite widespread distribution of the lifesaving drug Narcan.

Homicide and Violent Crime

Homicides declined from 2,206 in 2022 to 1,892 in 2023, but missing data from 28 agencies suggests there is an undercount. Agencies not reporting include the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office and San Jose Police Department. Based on the 2022 homicides statistics from these two agencies, this could represent a potential undercount of 93 homicides.   A cursory review of other missing cities and counties show the homicide undercount could be as high as 150 victims, significantly affecting the portrait painted in the Department of Justice report of a homicide decline.

Other crimes are similarly undercounted:

  • Aggravated assaults with firearms increased from a reported 17,908 assaults with firearms (including attempted murders and assaults with a deadly weapon) in 2018 to 29,179 in 2023, a six-year increase of 62.9 percent.   These are often individuals who perpetrators intended to murder, but didn’t die.
  • Robberies increased from 47,669 in 2022 to 49,177 in 2023.
  • Sexual assaults and domestic violence incidents declined by 4.3% and 1.2% respectively in 2023.

Steve Smith 071124 a

By comparison, the US Military combat casualty statistics during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 were 1,847 deaths due to enemy action and 20,149 wounded. Put another way, thirteen years of combat casualties against the Taliban were fewer than just one year of criminal homicides and aggravated assaults with firearms committed in California. This is a dire and sinister statistic that any terrorist organization would envy.

Gun Laws and Offender Sentencing
California earns an “A” grade from the Giffords Law Center – To Prevent Gun Violence for its gun violence prevention laws. Yet, California’s sentencing for gun crimes and other violent crimes shouldn’t earn such a high grade. Violent offenders in all offense categories sentenced to state prison declined from 47,315 in 2022 to 42,862 in 2023. Similarly, the number of violent offenders sentenced to county jail, probation, or a combination of both, each declined.

Property Crime Pays
Thefts declined slightly from 902,977 in 2022 to 888,841 in 2023, while the value of stolen goods Increased significantly from $2.9 billion in 2018 to $5.1 billion in 2023 – with an average stolen property value of a lucrative $5,737.00.

Steve Smith 071124 b

Property crimes are often underreported to law enforcement for a variety of reasons.  The National Crime Victimization Survey, a national survey conducted annually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, indicates that property crimes are the most underreported crime category.   While state by state comparisons are not provided, the NCVS reports indicates property crimes increased 42 percent nationwide.

Ghost Towns

The reduction in reported crime in certain areas may be influenced by business closures and depopulation rather than actual crime reduction. Recently both California Governor Gavin Newsom and Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao reported a reduction in crimes in Oakland’s “crime triangle”- while failing to report the closure of over a dozen businesses in the same area.  Less victims (closed businesses) and fewer potential victims patronizing businesses means less crime.

Drug Crimes and Deaths

Because of the limitations placed on law enforcement by California law, the state is both cooperating with and deferring to federal law enforcement agencies and the US Attorneys to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate drug traffickers.   On June 5th, in the Imperial Valley, the US Department of Justice reported that

more than 400 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials arrested 36 defendants and executed 25 search warrants in Imperial County; San Diego; Fresno, California; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and Salem, Oregon. As of this afternoon, the search continues for 11 fugitives.

It remains to be seen if this and other cases will have an impact on 2024’s overdose statistics.  As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control has not yet published 2023 statistics, but in 2022 reported 10,952 overdose deaths in California – mostly due to fentanyl.  In 2018 the overdose deaths numbered 5,348, which means we’ve seen a five-year increase of 104.7 percent.

While some specific crime categories have shown declines and others increases, the overall picture is complex due to underreporting, missing data from law enforcement agencies, and varying trends in different types of crimes.  A question remains: if the NFL can provide up to the minute play by play and same day career statistics for its players, why must California wait 6 months to produce an inaccurate report from the preceding year that raises as many questions as it answers?

Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute, focusing on California’s growing crime problem.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top