Sheriff’s Office Reports Show Increase in Violent, Property Crimes in 2020

Homicide, Assault, Theft Increased Last Year, Lesser Offenses Decreased

A view of the entrance to Santa Barbara's South County Jail. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported an increase in violent and property crimes over 2020 — a notable increase following years of decline. 

Violent crime as a whole increased by 7 percent in 2020, from 303 instances to 323, including crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The largest category of increase in violent crime was rape, which increased 71 percent from 2019 to 2020, from 24 to 41 instances. Robbery also increased 32 percent, from 38 to 50 instances, the Sheriff’s Office reported. 

Property crimes increased by 20 percent over the past year, most significantly in theft and vehicle theft. Instances of theft were higher in 2020 than any other year in the previous decade, with 2,010 instances over the year, a 27 percent increase compared to 2019. Vehicle theft increased 73 percent from 2019 to 2020, jumping from 90 instances in 2019 to 156. 

“2020 brought significant challenges and changes to the criminal justice system in Santa Barbara County, including a significantly reduced jail population due to the adoption of emergency zero-dollar bail practices at the state and local level,” Sheriff Bill Brown said. “We are concerned that those changes may have had a negative impact on crime rates and in turn resulted in an increased fear of crime in our communities.” 

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Santa Barbara County implemented an emergency bail schedule in April 2020, where people arrested for misdemeanors or low-level felonies could be released on $0 bail, meant to reduce jail populations amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

While violent crimes and theft increased from 2019 to 2020, lesser criminal offenses and some juvenile status offenses decreased by 15 percent. Among the largest decreases were public drunkenness, which went down from 463 instances to 315, and sex offenses, which went down from 71 to 51 instances. 

Juvenile offenses decreased by 39 percent over the past year, including both curfew violations and runaways. Curfew violations dropped from 99 instances in 2019 to 37 in 2020, while runaways went down from 143 to 111. 

Among lesser offenses, the two categories which experienced a significant increase over the past year were DUI violations and disorderly conduct. DUI violations went up 17 percent, from 223 to 260 instances, while disorderly conduct went up 28 percent, from 375 instances to 479. 

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