Police Arrests Are Plummeting Across California, Fueling Alarm and Questions

James Queally, Kate Mather, and Cindy Chang, LA Times, April 1, 2017

LAPD

In 2013, something changed on the streets of Los Angeles.

Police officers began making fewer arrests. The following year, the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest numbers dipped even lower and continued to fall, dropping by 25% from 2013 to 2015.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period.

The statewide numbers are just as striking: Police recorded the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years, according to the California attorney general’s office, with about 1.1 million arrests in 2015 compared with 1.5 million in 2006.

It is unclear why officers are making fewer arrests. Some in law enforcement cite diminished manpower and changes in deployment strategies. Others say officers have lost motivation in the face of increased scrutiny — from the public as well as their supervisors.

The picture is further complicated by Proposition 47, a November 2014 ballot measure that downgraded some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. Many police officers say an arrest isn’t worth the time it takes to process when the suspect will spend at most a few months in jail.

In Los Angeles, the drop in arrests comes amid a persistent increase in crime, which began in 2014. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted that arrests for the most serious crimes have risen along with the numbers of those offenses, while the decrease comes largely from narcotics arrests.

The arrest data include both felonies and misdemeanors — crimes ranging from homicide to disorderly conduct. From 2010 to 2015, felony arrests made by Los Angeles police officers were down 29% and misdemeanor arrests were down 32%.

Two other measures of police productivity, citations and field interviews, have also declined significantly.

The LAPD could not provide final tallies for arrests in 2016. But based on numbers that include arrests by other agencies within city limits, the downward trend continued last year, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said.

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Nationwide criticism of police stoked by the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and other highly publicized law enforcement killings has had an effect on officers’ mindsets — but not to the detriment of crime fighting, Beck said.

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The decline in arrests had already begun before Brown, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white Ferguson police officer in August 2014, setting off nationwide demonstrations. After a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson officer, protesters in Los Angeles and other cities marched through the streets.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, 72% of the law enforcement officers questioned said their colleagues were less likely to stop and question suspicious people “as a result of high-profile incidents involving blacks and the police.”

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