Photo by Sam Hodgson
County Supervisor Bill Horn
Statement: “Theft is up in this county by 16 percent,” county Supervisor Bill Horn said June 26, criticizing the state’s prison realignment process.
Analysis: Last year, faced with a court mandate to reduce prison overcrowding, state lawmakers decided to send more low-level inmates to local jails instead of prisons and expand the pool of inmates that county officials would be required to monitor after their release.
San Diego County supervisors welcomed the shift, saying they could manage the inmates better than the state. But they wanted the state to fork over more money to pay for it. They feared crime might rise without adequate funding to monitor parolees in the community.
So far, county law enforcement officials say funding has been adequate. But during a budget hearing last Tuesday, Horn claimed the prison shift was causing rising levels of theft across the county.
“Since [the law] was passed, theft is up in this county by 16 percent, including autos,” Horn said. “You can’t blame that on our budget. But it’s Sacramento’s budget that has presented us with this dilemma.”
It’s a familiar refrain among Horn and his colleagues. The supervisors often praise their own financial prudence and lambast the state for underfunding services the county must provide. It’s not our fault, they say. It’s Sacramento.
We decided to Fact Check whether theft had risen so distinctly because it addresses a key concern that local authorities raised after state lawmakers approved the prison shift. And these days, any claim about crime increasing is also especially unusual.
In San Diego, rising crime would mark a historic shift. Major crime categories like murder, robbery and theft have followed nationwide trends and gradually fallen since the 1990s. (The reason continues to puzzle criminologists.)
The county began monitoring more parolees in October last year, and Horn claimed theft had then started to rise. Law enforcement statistics show theft has indeed increased slightly, but not nearly as much as Horn claimed.
Horn didn’t specifically define how he was comparing crime statistics. We examined the total number of thefts reported since October last year and compared it to the same six-month period a year earlier. (Criminologists use the same year-to-year method to account for seasonal fluctuations in crime.)
A quick note: We interpreted “theft” as a reference to all major crime categories of stolen property reported by law enforcement officials (also known as the FBI’s Part I crime index). The crimes include robbery, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
Our review showed theft didn’t spike by 16 percent as Horn claimed. The number had climbed by about 3 percent.
To be thorough, we also checked how each of the four different kinds of theft had changed over the period. They also didn’t match Horn’s figure. No reported increase in thefts landed in the double digits.
Horn did not return messages seeking comment.
In an interview, Mack Jenkins, head of the county’s Probation Department, said it’s too soon to say whether the prison shift was responsible for a slight rise in theft. It could simply follow natural upticks in crime or nationwide trends, he said.
We don’t know whether the state law has actually caused more crime, but Horn’s statement exaggerated how much theft has risen since October. By claiming a 16 percent increase, he essentially made about 5,300 additional crimes appear out of thin air.
And those thousands of nonexistent crimes helped bolster his criticism. A 16 percent spike made state lawmakers appear much worse than just a 3 percent climb. Horn more than quadrupled the margin.
Though theft has indeed risen slightly, we’ve rated Horn’s statement False because it incorrectly described crime trends since the prison shift. His figure couldn’t reasonably be considered a rounding error. Horn cited a very specific figure that didn’t closely reflect law enforcement reports.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
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