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Tuesday, June 5, 2007 | Violent crime in San Diego decreased 3 percent from 2005 to 2006 despite a spike in homicides and an increase in robberies, according to crime statistics released Monday by the FBI. Overall property crimes also dropped 2 percent, despite rising numbers of burglaries.

The statistics offered a mixed bag for San Diego. The increase in homicides, combined with an increase in robberies, was offset by a decrease in aggravated assaults that kept overall violent crime down. San Diego’s drop in property crime, while a positive sign, did not keep pace with the national average.

Homicides grew by 33.3 percent in San Diego last year, from 51 murders in 2005 to 68 murders in 2006. Homicides in the U.S. overall increased 0.3 percent and the average increase in murders was 0.2 percent in the nation’s biggest cities.

“The increase in the homicide rate is disturbing,” said Stuart Henry, a professor of criminal justice and director of the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University. “Even though it may be based on small absolute numbers, it’s still something we should worry about.”

However, Henry pointed out that San Diego still has the second-lowest homicide rate for cities of comparable size in California. San Diego has traditionally enjoyed a low homicide rate compared to other similar-sized cities around the country. In 2006, there were 119 murders in San Antonio, and 187 in Dallas, the two cities closest to San Diego in population.

San Diego’s homicide rate last year was about 5.4 murders per 100,000 people, placing it 29th out of the 69 California cities included in the report. Los Angeles’ homicide rate was 12 murders per 100,000 people, as was San Francisco’s. Other, smaller cities had higher homicide rates: Richmond’s rate was 41 murders per 100,000, while Oakland’s was 36 per 100,000.

The San Diego Police Department did not comment on the crime report.

The numbers were released in the FBI’s preliminary annual Uniform Crime Report, a nationwide survey of serious crimes. It is the law enforcement community’s most comprehensive annual snapshot of crime.

Christopher Kutz, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, said the San Diego area usually has a lower crime rate than Northern California cities because of its older population. The latest FBI figures support that synopsis, he said.

“San Diego seems to be bucking the national trend on violent crime,” he said. 

But Henry was also concerned about a 16 percent jump in robberies in San Diego. He said the decrease in overall violent crime belies the double-digit percentage increases in murder and robberies, both of which he said are cause for concern.

Overall, property crime in San Diego was down 2 percent from 2005 to 2006. Property crime dropped more sharply nationwide, however, dipping 2.9 percent. In the western U.S., property crime dropped even more, 5.6 percent.

The number of burglaries in San Diego increased by 4 percent from 2005 to 2006. Nationwide, burglaries increased slightly, by 0.2 percent, but in the nation’s largest cities, burglaries decreased by 2.3 percent.

Elsewhere in San Diego County, the violent crime numbers were too small to provide any significant analysis. Property crime in Chula Vista, Oceanside and Escondido — the three other San Diego County cities studied — decreased across the board with one notable exception.

In Chula Vista, the number of arsons rose 78 percent, from 23 in 2005 to 41 in 2006. 

By contrast, arsons in Escondido and Oceanside decreased by 54 percent and 36 percent, respectively. The number of arsons also dropped 20 percent in the city of San Diego. 

Motor vehicle thefts decreased around the county. In San Diego, there were 5 percent fewer vehicle thefts, and that figure was down 19 percent in Chula Vista, 15 percent in Oceanside and 11 percent in Escondido.

Capt. Lisa Wrobel, who heads up the San Diego Regional Auto Theft Task Force, attributed the drop in auto theft to effective police work that has taken repeat offenders off the streets and to greater public awareness. A few years ago, she said, San Diego had a reputation as a hotbed for auto crime, and car owners have started to wise up.

“People are paying attention to where they park there car, what they leave visible in their car, that sort of thing,” Wrobel said.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the nationwide crime numbers are worrying. He said the country saw a very sharp, very fast drop in overall crime from 1997 onward, but that the decline has noticeably slowed.

“Basically, we had a decade of good news, and that news just isn’t as good any more,” Kleiman said.

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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