The homicide spike: The big picture

The headlines blared that homicides were up 31% in California in 2020. That’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

A long-range look at crime statistics, particularly homicide data, shows that the 2020 crime rate nationally and in California was still a fraction of its highs in the early 1990s, according to government statistics. 

The jump between 2019 and 2020 became a central aspect of the unsuccessful recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

Republican Larry Elder, the leading vote-getter among Newsom’s challengers, decried the “soft-on-crime ethos that we see emanating from Sacramento and from many of our major cities.” Kevin Faulconer, another Newsom challenger, said the rising crime rate forced major employers to pull out of San Francisco.

In Kern County, the homicide rate per 100,000 people was 12.7 in 2020 — the state’s highest — or about one for every 8,000 people.  Statewide, the average homicide rate was 5.5. 

Some parts of California were able to suppress a spike in homicides. Monterey County’s homicide rate, once as high as 13.8 people per 100,000 in 2015, has dropped significantly, and in 2020 was lower than the statewide average at 3.2 per 100,000.