In Los Angeles and across the state, law enforcement officers are increasingly making fewer arrests, according to an LA Times story published over the weekend.
In 2010, the LAPD made 145,354 arrests, compared with 100,346 in 2015. The LA County Sheriff’s Department made 138,511 arrests in 2010, but the number dropped to 99,478 in 2015.
At the state level, in 2015, law enforcement officers reported the lowest number of arrests in close to 50 years. There were 1.1 million arrests in 2015, compared with 1.5 million arrests in 2006.
Field interview cards, which are used for some encounters between officers and civilians that don’t end in an arrest or citation, also fell dramatically for both the LAPD and the LASD.
In November of 2014, LAPD officers turned in the lowest number of cards in nearly five years. The number of field interviews conducted by LA County deputies dropped 67% between 2012 and 2016. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell attributed the decrease to budget woes that led to a big reduction in the number of LASD gang enforcement teams.
There isn’t one clear reason why officers are making fewer arrests, but there are a number of possibilities that law enforcement officials have suggested.
The board of directors for the Association for Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies (ALADS) says one major factor for the LASD is a “lack of un-obligated patrol time due to short staffing in our patrol functions.” Instead of being able to engaging with the public and performing proactive policing, deputies “spend time racing from call to call.”
The short staffing also forces patrol deputies to work multiple overtime shifts every week, which often results in 16-hour shifts. “The fatigue factor of long shifts and the realization that an arrest towards the end of a shift will lead to multiple hours in paperwork and additional hours in processing if a booking takes place, combined with compression of work weeks, is certainly a discouragement to making an arrest,” the ALADS board said. “In addition, making an arrest often requires backup, the availability of which many times is in question due to short staffing.”
While arrests have been falling, certain crime numbers have been creeping up in Los Angeles over the past several years.
According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, arrests for most of the rising serious crimes, arrests for those crime categories have also risen. Much of the drop in arrests reportedly comes from narcotics-related crimes. Between 2010 and 2015, the LAPD’s felony arrests dropped 29% overall, while misdemeanor arrests dropped 32%.
The deputies’ union says that arrests are “discretionary acts,” and that sometimes deputies will instead write a report about the crime, “leaving it to prosecutors to file charges and send a notification letter to the defendant with an appearance date for arraignment.”
What would cause a deputy to decline to arrest someone in favor of writing a report? “Simple,” says ALADS. “Making an arrest presents an opportunity for second guessing by the Department, politicians, and the public.”
LAPD officers have been affected by public scrutiny of law enforcement in the wake of high-profile fatal shootings by cops, but that the concern hasn’t had a negative impact on crime fighting, according to Chief Beck. “I don’t really see things that make me think that the workforce as a body is retreating,” Beck told the Times. Plus, the LAPD’s drop in arrests started before the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
Beck argues that modern policing isn’t just about arrests. The chief pointed out that certain strategies, like community policing and swarming crime hot spots, may be increasing public safety while resulting in few arrests. Chief Beck says he doesn’t want officers to focus on arrest numbers. “I don’t want them to care about that,” Beck told the Times. “I want them to care about how safe their community is and how healthy it is.”
Sheriff McDonnell and other local officials in CA have blamed increases in crime on Proposition 47, which downgraded six low-level drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. Some officers have also said they’ve stopped making arrests for some of the offenses reduced by Prop. 47, which would at most land someone in jail for a few months.
A 2016 report from the the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice shows no correlation between Prop. 47 and crime. The study, authored by CJCJ Senior Research Fellow Mike Males, examines shifts in crime rates from January to June 2014 and January to June 2015 in the state’s 68 largest cities, and compares those numbers to county jail populations and Prop. 47-related “discharges and releases from prison to resentencing counties.”
“If the reduction in local jail populations after Proposition 47 passed in November 2014 is responsible for the urban crime increase in early 2015, as some sources are arguing, then cities in counties with the largest reductions in jail populations in 2015 would show the biggest increases in crime,” Males writes. The data does not match this theory, however.
Cities in the 11 counties with the most significant decreases in overall jail populations and felony jail populations “showed equivalent changes in violent crime, and smaller increases in property and total crime,” compared with the cities in the 10 counties with the smallest drops in jail populations.
In these 11 counties with greater jail population decreases (total average daily jail populations decreased 15%, and average felony jail populations reduced by 18%), the overall crime rate increased by just 1%. In the 10 counties with smaller jail population decreases (total average daily jail pop. decreased 7%, and average felony jail pop. dropped by 11%), overall crime numbers increased by 6%.
“Both sets of counties experienced violent crime increases of 9%, while the 11 large jail population decrease counties saw no increase in property crime,” Males writes. “Significantly, the 10 smaller jail population decrease counties experienced a six% increase in property crime.”
Photo credit: Steve Lyon.