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Santa Monica Number One in Property Crime Among California Cities of Similar Size
By Niki Cervantes
October 30, 2017 -- Santa Monica continued a trend last year that left California cities with similarly sized populations far behind: It ranked number one in property crime.
The seaside city had more property crime than a dozen cities roughly the same population total of 93,921 people, according to an analysis by The Lookout of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report released last month.
Santa Monica experienced 4,039 reported incidents of property crime in 2016, easily surpassing small, well-off cities like Santa Barbara (3,060 property crimes) and unaffluent counterparts like Compton (2,528 property crimes).
Santa Monica -- with 43 property crimes per 1,000 residents -- also had a higher property crime rate than similar Southern California city's it often uses for comparisons.
Only Culver City had a higher rate, with 52 property crimes per 1,000 residents. Beverly Hills had 40 property crimes per 1,000 residents, Manhattan Beach had 29 and Torrance had 22 property crimes per 1,000.
The city’s 5.35 percent increase in such crime was driven mostly by reports of larceny/theft, the FBI data indicates. It was behind Carson and Santa Barbara, each of which saw jumps of almost 13 percent for property crime in 2016 compared to the previous year.
Nationwide, the FBI report for 2016 showed property crime in the country as a whole dropping by 1.3 percent last year -- the 14th consecutive year of decline.
Violent crime nationwide rose 4.1 percent, the second straight year of increases, according to new statistics released by the FBI.
Santa Monica saw violent crimes rise higher than the national rate with 475 violent crimes reported, up from 445 in 2015, or 6.74 percent increase.
Santa Monica’s increase in violent crime was driven by incidents of robbery and aggravated assault, the numbers show.
In 2016, the city had 2 murders (compared with 1 in 2015) and 40 rapes compared with 42 reported the previous year. Reported robberies were up from 172 in 2015 to 189 last year, while aggravated assaults rose from 230 incidents to 244.
Still, those numbers placed Santa Monica far behind the double-digit increases common in 2016 among similar-sized cities, including San Leandro, South Gate, Redding, Carson, San Marcos, Compton and Hesperia, which are far less affluent than Santa Monica.
Community groups and activists have been complaining about crime lately, accusing City Hall of being more focused on the revenue from Santa Monica tourism and new building than on the safety and well-being of residential neighborhoods.
City leaders “are so busy throwing parties for themselves, they don’t notice there is a fire in the kitchen,” said Armen Melkonians, the activist who founded Residocracy.org, an online-based group where the talk of crime is increasing.
He said the City does not want to “acknowledge the problem."
"It would rather put out press releases about palm trees and sunshine," he said. "It’s a matter of policy. The City always blames someone else for the (crime) problem. But it’s their job to take care of us, not someone else’s.”
Lt. Saul Rodriguez, the Santa Monica Police Department spokesman, said the FBI numbers should be looked at in context.
The increases for both violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, are, and long have been, extremely low, despite the increase, he said.
“Big increases can be small (total) numbers,” Rodriguez said.
The increase for property crime is also modest in relative terms, he said.
In many cases, state legislation beyond the Santa Monica Police Department’s power has contributed to rising crime in general in California, Rodriguez said.
Like many in law enforcement, Rodriguez claimed two laws in particular make policing more difficult for Santa Monica and other law enforcement statewide.
AB 109, a 2011 law, is meant to ease state prison overcrowding. It shifted nonviolent offenders from the state’s then-jammed prisons to county jails, or placed them on probation under county supervision rather than by state parole agents.
He also put some blame on Proposition 47, which California voters approved in 2014.
The measure turned drug possession and some thefts into misdemeanors, instead of felonies, and allowed many offenders to wipe felonies from their records.
Law enforcement officers sometimes call Prop 47 a “get out of jail free card.”
Proponents of the laws say police are too quick to apportion out responsibility for crime and should look more closely at themselves for answers.
But Rodriguez said the SMPD monitors social media and worries when people post comments about not trusting police -- and deciding not to call officers at all for that reason.
“Call us,” he said. “We will be there. We are doing the best we can.”
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