California Arrest Rates Plummet to Historic Low, CA Police Chiefs Respond

Press Release

Photo: Public Policy Institute of California

According to a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California, the states arrest rate has declined since its peak in 1989.  They also say that racial disparities have narrowed.

After the report was issued, a statement was released by the California Police Chiefs Association.

Here is a look at the overview of the report:


SAN FRANCISCO, December 3, 2018—California’s arrest rate has declined by more than half since its peak in 1989, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In the first statewide examination of long-term trends in the state, the report finds that the demographics of who is arrested have also changed. But even as racial disparities have narrowed, African Americans today are three times more likely to be arrested than whites.

The arrest rate for California has dropped 58 percent since 1989, reaching a historic low of 3,428 per 100,000 residents in 2016. About three-fourths of the decline is due to sharp drops in misdemeanor arrest rates, especially for traffic and alcohol-related offenses. Felony arrest rates for property and drug offenses also fell substantially.

“The past four decades have seen tremendous change in the criminal justice landscape in California, and arrest rates in the state fell precipitously,” said Magnus Lofstrom, coauthor of the report and a senior fellow at PPIC. “Broadly, the trend of declining arrest rates aligns with falling crime rates over the past few decades, though there have been fluctuations year to year.”

The report describes trends in arrests between 1980 and 2016—a time of large-scale changes in state and federal criminal justice laws. It is based on arrests and citations reported monthly by law enforcement agencies to the Criminal Justice Statistics Center at the California Department of Justice. Future PPIC research will explore factors that may contribute to these trends.

The report finds:

  • Individuals who are arrested tend to be nonwhite, younger, and male. In 2016, 41 percent of those arrested were Latino, 36 percent were white, and 16 percent were African American. African Americans were highly overrepresented: They made up 6 percent of the state’s population but 16 percent of arrests. In contrast, Latinos represented 39 percent of the population and 41 percent of arrests. Individuals ages 18–39 accounted for two-thirds of arrests, and men accounted for three-quarters.
  • Racial disparities have narrowed. But the disparity between African Americans and whites is still substantial: In 2016, African Americans were three times more likely than whites to be arrested, compared to 3.6 times as likely in the early 1990s. In contrast, Latinos were 1.1 times more likely than whites to be arrested in 2016, compared with 1.8 times more likely in the early ’90s.
  • Overall declines are mainly due to plummeting arrest rates for juveniles and young adults. From 1980 to 2016, the arrest rate among those age 17 or younger dropped by 84 percent, while the arrest rate among those ages 18–24 declined by 63 percent.
  • Women account for nearly a quarter of all arrests. This is up from 14 percent in the early 1980s. Arrest rates for violent offenses increased among women between 1980 and 2016: felony violent arrest rates declined 37 percent for men but increased 62 percent for women. Misdemeanor assault and battery arrest rates declined 25 percent for men but increased 67 percent for women.
  • Arrest rates vary substantially across counties. Those with the lowest rates tend to be large and urban, while counties with the highest rates are typically smaller and rural. There is notable variation across counties in the demographics of those arrested but a large disparity exists between African Americans and whites in nearly all of them. Of the 49 counties examined, the African American arrest rate is at least double the white arrest rate in 45 counties, at least three times greater in 33 counties, at least four times greater in 21 counties, and at least five times greater in 13 counties.

The five counties with the highest arrest rates in 2016—including both felonies and misdemeanors—are Lake (7,906 annual arrests per 100,000 county residents), Siskiyou (6,862), Shasta (6,672), Trinity (6,559), and Butte (6,394). The lowest total arrest rates are found in Riverside (2,479), San Francisco (2,576), Santa Clara (2,603), Sacramento (2,797), and Los Angeles (2,800).

Accompanying the report, PPIC released an interactive tool that allows deeper exploration of arrest rates across California counties, as well as a fact sheet, Arrests in California.

The report is titled New Insights into California Arrests: Trends Disparities, and County Differences. It is supported with funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. In addition to Lofstrom, the coauthors are PPIC research associates Brandon Martin, Justin Goss, and Joseph Hayes, and Steven Raphael, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

About PPIC

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Here is a Press Release by the California Police Chiefs in response to the report:

PPIC Report on Arrest Data Welcome, but Incomplete, Say California’s Police Chiefs

SACRAMENTO – The California Police Chiefs Association welcomes the results of the recent Public Policy Institute of California’s research and report on Arrest Rates in California from 1980 to 2016 but emphasize that the data does not go far enough.

“We applaud PPIC’s exhaustive study that shows that arrest rates have dropped to historic lows and that racial disparities have narrowed considerably,” stated Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing, President of the California Police Chiefs Association. “We also understand the report indicates that disparities continue to exist, and we are committed to ensuring fair policing practices,” added Chief Swing.

When asked about the trends identified in the report Swing said, “Data analysis can be a great tool to discern trends, however the value of this report could be improved if the data analysis had gone a step further. We believe differentiating between arrests made proactively and arrests made as a result of a call-for-service and/or a criminal investigation would enhance the value of future reports. We believe this context is an important one to have and could have added additional clarity,” added Chief Swing.

There are several factors that influence arrests including number of officers available on patrol. The significant drop of arrests in 2008 is likely tied to a reduction in peace officers as a result of budget cuts from the Great Recession.

Cal Chiefs looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the PPIC on this research and working with them on this project as it moves forward.

The California Police Chiefs Association represents the state’s 332 municipal police chiefs whose agencies protect over 26 million Californians.


  1. “Felony arrest rates for property and drug offenses also fell substantially”.

    Those Crimes did not fall. Politicians changed the laws, which made those crimes misdemeanors, not felonies. Love how they dumb down what’s really going. Of course arrests and felonies are going down! California changed the laws. Now politicians, and law enforcement agencies are taking credit for this?

    Citizens stay wise, and analyze crime statistics carefully. A lot of factors come in to play, on how they chose to calculate these crime statistics.

  2. Just because arrest rates are down doesn’t mean crime is down. Are criminals getting away more often? Are cops backing down because they can’t do their jobs without someone crying racism?

    And, yes, the law was pathetically changed. In favor of the criminals.

  3. The other reason may be the police are taking less risk because of all the lawsuits towards them. Think about it. If you are a cop and think the community does not back you, you may let some situations slide.

    • The police have never had support in certain communities, and they never will. The cops still do their jobs. They’re used to be hated by “some.”

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