San Diego Police officers monitor a rally in City Heights, where residents protested the 2012 shooting of an unarmed man by SDPD. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Hate crimes are on the rise. Marijuana arrests have plummeted. Homicides in San Diego are relatively rare.

Those are some of the big-picture takeaways from five reports released this week by the California attorney general’s office, compiling various criminal justice statistics for 2017: crime, homicides, juvenile justice, hate crimes and police use of force. (Disclosure: My husband works for the state Department of Justice.)

Here’s a snapshot of what the reports show happened in the state and in San Diego specifically.


Marijuana felonies went way down, as you’d expect, because Prop. 64 reduced many of those crimes to misdemeanors. In 2016, marijuana felony arrests made up more than 20 percent of all drug offenses. Now, that figure is 7 percent.

In 2017, the majority of the marijuana arrests were men, between the ages of 20 and 30. Latinos were arrested more often than any other ethnic group. Whites were arrested for felony marijuana offenses slightly more often than blacks.

There were almost twice as many misdemeanor marijuana arrests than felony arrests in 2017. Again, it was mostly Latinos – but mostly between the ages of 10 and 17.


San Diego County’s homicide rate is among the lowest in the state. That rate fell between 2016 and 2017 but has fluctuated slightly over last decade. It is now equal to the 2009 level, or 2.4 homicides per every 100,000 people.

Nearly all the major metropolitan regions – Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco – saw more murders in 2017 than San Diego. The highest homicide rate belonged to Kern County in the Central Valley.

Even so, the perception of the U.S. border as a wild, lawless place – aided by media coverage and the president – persists. A Washington Post opinion writer recently noted that not a single American border city appears in the FBI’s top 60 most dangerous cities.

Tijuana is experiencing a spike in homicides because of the drug trade, but the violence has not spilled over here. City of San Diego crime rates are at a near 50-year low, and all but one type of crime, robberies, have been falling year over year, according to the Union-Tribune.

Interesting to note: The rate of homicides in Imperial County more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, although it’s not immediately clear in the California AG’s report why.

Hate Crimes

The hate crimes report has received the most media attention of the bunch this week – likely because it showed more than a 17 percent jump in hate crimes across the state, part of a three-year surge.

San Diego County saw 95 hate crime “events,” according to the report, 41 of which happened in the city of San Diego. That’s a 13 percent increase in total hate crime events from 2016.

The Sheriff’s Department responded to 14 events, and the rest are fairly evenly distributed across other cities and jurisdictions in the county. Carlsbad had seven reported events – more than Oceanside and Escondido, which are both larger.

The San Diego district attorney’s office, however, only reported filing 13 cases as hate crimes. It recorded eight convictions and five guilty pleas.

 “The report comes about a month after state auditors said California is underreporting hate crimes to the FBI, state lawmakers and the public because local law enforcement agencies lack adequate policies and training,” noted the Associated Press. “Advocates said the lack of an accurate count masks the extent of bias crimes at a time of heightened racial, religious and ethnic tensions.”

Juvenile Justice

Prop. 57, passed in 2016, placed the decision on whether to try a juvenile in adult court in the hands of judges, not prosecutors.

In 255 fitness hearings – proceedings to determine whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult – juveniles were sent to adult court 62 percent of the time in 2017. A greater percentage of Hispanic juveniles were found to be unfit for juvenile court than white or black juveniles.

The biggest group of juveniles sent to adult court were 17-year-olds, but three 14-year-olds were sent to adult court.

The report notes that regardless of age, juveniles were most likely to be convicted in adult court than any other disposition.

Police Use of Force

Police use of force has gotten a fresh round of scrutiny this year in the wake of the death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, who was unarmed and shot several times in the back by police.

A bill in the Legislature written by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber would lower the bar for prosecuting police officers who deploy deadly force.

In San Diego and the state as a whole, use of force incidents involved Latinos and black residents at a higher rate than their general shares of the population, the new report shows.

San Diego had 66 use of force incidents, accounting for 9.3 percent of all events in the state in 2017.

The San Diego district attorney’s office reviews use of force incidents “when a peace officer fires their weapon causing fatal or non-fatal injuries, or when an individual dies in police custody after use of force,” Steve Walker, a spokesman for the office, wrote in an email.

The AG’s report included a more expansive definition of use of force incidents than those reviewed by the DA. Still, the DA has not finished reviewing all of the incidents from 2017. Earlier this week, the department had only posted eight letters summarizing its reviews of 2017 incidents; after I inquired about how many were outstanding, it posted four more. Walker said five additional incidents are still under review.

Of 155 police shootings reviewed by the DA’s office between 2005 and 2016, not a single officer was found criminally liable.

DA Summer Stephan, who was elected in June, said during her campaign that she’s exploring starting a task force, like the office uses on other topics, for officer-involved shootings.

What We Know About Turnout in the June Primary

Now that election results from the June primary have been finalized, we have a clearer view of what turnout looked like across the state.

At first glance, it looks like turnout surged. Turnout was 37 percent across the state, a 12 percent uptick from the 2014 primary.

An important caveat, though: Turnout in 2014 cratered. Zoom out a bit more, and 2018 turnout was just a little higher than average for the last several non-presidential primary elections.

San Diego beat the state average, and hit 40 percent turnout.

Here’s a cool map from CALMatters with turnout from across the state:

Graphic by CALMatters

California’s Motor Voter program – which automatically registers people who sign up for a license or ID through the DMV – went into effect before the election.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the program was having technical difficulties as the rollout got underway.

The secretary of state’s office told me that there were indeed IT issues, but said they did not impact anyone’s ability to vote in the primary. Here’s the statement Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, sent me:

“The new California Motor Voter program is working. In its first month, the program successfully registered more than 71,000 new voters and enabled more than 157,000 registrations to be updated through the DMV.

“Like any major IT project, we identified some issues that required back-end administrative adjustments with the Department of Motor Vehicles, California Department of Technology, and county elections officials. The issues have been addressed, the administrative adjustments did not result in duplicate registrations, and, equally important, they did not affect any voter’s ability to vote in the June 5, 2018 Statewide Direct Primary Election.”

Golden State News

And, Most Importantly, Tacos

Eater had two great articles this week about California cuisine: A list of the 38 best restaurants in the state, which is sadly short on San Diego establishments but at least can recognize some stellar barbacoa; and this piece from taco expert Gustavo Arellano, in which he sings the praises of the Mexican food scene in Bakersfield. Yes, Bakersfield.

Jesse Marx contributed to this report.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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