UPDATE, October 2016: The graphs below have been brought up to the present date.
There is a philosophical question the Outpost often hears, and often wonders about itself: Is crime in Humboldt County worse than it used to be, or are we all just more freaked out about crime than we used to be (because of the Outpost)?
It’s a fair question. There was a time, not so long ago, when the streams of adorable animal pix that populated our Facebook feeds were not interrupted, frequently, by the up-to-the-minute mayhem from the streets of Humboldt County. We did not read arrest logs over our morning coffee. So it feels as though there is more crime than there once was, but how much of that is in our minds and how much of it is in the real world?
Well, the most recent numbers are in, and the answer seems clear: Maybe we’re all more paranoid than we were before, but crime of all sorts is on the rise in Humboldt County. And in some cases, it’s rising very rapidly.
Earlier this month, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Reports for the year 2013. These reports — which are a bit difficult to navigate — compile statistics on reported crimes and arrests for almost every law enforcement agency in the nation.
We’ve extracted the relevant information. The following table lists the raw number of crimes reported to nearly every police department operating in Humboldt County in 2013. (Note that “Humboldt” stands for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.)
There are a few state and federal police forces that operate in the county but are not represented here, simply because the FBI reports do not break those agencies’ stats down to the county level.
These numbers for 2013, alone, don’t tell us that much. There were 192 violent crimes reported in the city of Eureka in 2013 — one every 1.9 days — and that’s certainly more than anyone would like. But is it worse than anywhere else? Is it worse than it use to be?
The FBI provides a somewhat handier way to retrieve historical Uniform Crime Data for larger cities and counties, as well as states and the nation as a whole. Using it, we can look at historical crime data for the police departments from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the cities of Eureka, Arcata and Fortuna, and compare those data to the state and national averages.
Here is a chart representing per-capita rates of violent crime — the number of incidents per 100,000 population — from 2000 to the present:
A few notes on this: As you can see, the thicker red and blue lines represent the state and national violent crime rates, respectively. Hover over the various lines to get the violent crime rate for each agency for each year. The FBI does not provide population or per capita crime rates for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office; for that purpose, the Outpost gathered estimates on the population of the unincorporated area of Humboldt County for each year from the California Department of Finance.
The first thing you can tell from this chart is that though the state and national violent crime rates have been steadily falling since 2000, and continued to fall in 2013, the crime rate of every Humboldt County agency (except Fortuna) rose last year. For the first time, the per capita number of violent crimes reported to the Arcata Police Department is greater than the national average. And violent crime absolutely took off like a rocket in Eureka, landing at 714 per 100,000 residents, or nearly double the national average.
The FBI defines “violent crime” as the sum of four separate categories of offense — murder or manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. “Property crime” is the aggregated total of three different offenses: Burglary, theft and automobile theft. Here’s the historical chart for property crime rates:
Same deal: Property crime is down nationally and statewide, but up almost everywhere in Humboldt County and way up in Eureka and Arcata.
There’s another way to look at this data — consider the national crime rate for each year as the baseline, and look at how much our local agencies deviate from that baseline. That way we can see not only how much worse things are getting, but how much we are failing to benefit from the long, national decrease in crime that the United States has been enjoying for some time. Here are those charts:
Following a mysterious lull from 2006 to 2008, Eureka’s property crime rate has been shooting up and up and up — 1.5 times the national average in 2008, 1.8 times the national average in 2009, 1.9 times it in 2012, 2.0, 2.5, 2.8…
Why is this? Some local police brass have been quick to blame realignment for recent high crime rates in the county, but clearly that is not all that is at play, since crime of some types and in some places has been on the rise since well before then. Your theories are welcome.
All told, though: Not a very pretty picture for Humboldt.