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State Crime Rate Grew by 3.7% in 2001, Reversing Long Trend

Report: Homicides rose in the Southland, up 7% in L.A. County, 17.7% in Riverside County and 12.5% in Orange County.

September 06, 2002|RAY F. HERNDON and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

California's crime rate increased 3.7% last year, spurred primarily by increases in homicides, robberies and vehicle thefts, the state attorney general's office reported Thursday.

In a statement accompanying the annual report, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer described the statistics as indicative of a reversal in the long trend of "impressive annual decreases" in crime.

Among violent crimes, the attorney general's report said, the greatest increase was in the state's homicide rate, with statistics showing that Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties accounted for 70% of the increase in slayings.

But Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, cautioned against reading too much into statistics based on relatively small numbers. "Sometimes statistics are deceiving," he said. "I don't think we're slipping back--the crime rate in Orange County is so low that, if you get just a couple more crimes, you have a 40% increase."

After declining steadily from 1994 through 1999, the number of homicides reversed direction in 2000 and accelerated last year. The number rose 6.1%, from 2,074 to 2,201.

The number of homicides in Los Angeles County increased 7%, from 1,000 to 1,070. But Riverside County reported 17.7% more killings, and Orange County had 12.5% more. In certain cities, the increases in the number of homicides were even greater. Santa Ana, for example, had a 41% increase in slayings, from 17 to 24.

For the purposes of crime reporting, California ranks six crimes as the most serious and uses them to compute the state's overall crime rate. They are homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. Separately, the state computes a violent crime rate using the first four, and a property crime rate with the remaining two.

The violent crime rate decreased 0.8%, but a surge in property crimes, particularly the 11.1% increase in the number of vehicle thefts, drove up the overall state crime rate. Violent crime declined in Los Angeles and Orange counties last year, despite increases in the number of homicides and robberies.

But when factoring in the increases in property crimes, Los Angeles saw a 1.7% growth in total crime, and Orange County's rate jumped 5.5%.

Despite the rise in crime, Lockyer said that crime overall "remains at ... levels last seen in the 1960s."

"Determined efforts are being made to understand why the enormous decline in crime has leveled off and to put into practice policies and procedures which will further the decreases in crime," Lockyer said.

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