PUBLIC SAFETY SPENDING AND ARRESTS IN S.D. REGION BOTH CONTINUE TO DECLINE

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By Miriam Raftery

November 24, 2013 (San Diego) --Public safety spending is decreasing in the San Diego region. At the same time, arrests also are going down, according to a pair of new reports released by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). 

This news comes on the heels of several recent complaints ECM has heard from residents in unincorporated areas, who spoke to us off record to complain of very long response times for calls to the Sheriff.  According to the residents, responses of 30 to 60 minutes have occurred even for violent asauslts, hot prowl burglaries, and other crimes in progress in unincorporated areas such as Campo and Lakeside.

Over the past five years, per capita spending on public safety in the region has gone down due to decreasing budgets and increasing population, but in more recent years, expenditures have fluctuated to a lesser degree. The amount of money spent per capita in San Diego County is down 10 percent from FY 2008 (when it was $624) and down 3 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2013 ($583 vs. $562). Regionally, there were 1.29 sworn officers per 1,000 residents, much lower than the national average of 2.4.

“Due to ongoing budget challenges, local law enforcement agencies have had to rethink how to do their job effectively with limited resources,” SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research Dr. Cynthia Burke said. “In many cases, they are making strategic decisions to cut back in some areas in order to protect core patrol functions that are key to maintaining public safety.”

Last fiscal year, $1.787 billion was spent across the region for public safety functions, including law enforcement, corrections, courts, prosecution, probation, and public defense. This figure was less  than 1 percent lower compared to FY 2012 ($1.793 billion) and 6 percent lower compared to FY 2008, when it hit a ten-year high ($1.927 billion).

Almost half of the public safety dollars (48%) were spent on law enforcement in FY 2013, according to the report titled “Public Safety Allocations in the San Diego Region: Expenditures and Staffing for Fiscal Year 2013.” Overall, area police departments and the Sheriff’s Department saw an 8 percent decrease in staffing over the past five years (5% for sworn staff and 14% for non-sworn staff), including 158 vacant sworn positions that are not being filled at this time.

Meanwhile, the arrest rates for both adults and juveniles have also declined over the past five years, according to the report titled “Arrests 2012: Law Enforcement Response to Crime in the San Diego Region.” The decrease was larger for juveniles than adults (46% compared to 17%).

For the first time in more than 10 years, the arrest rate for adults was higher than it was for juveniles – a trend also seen in other large California counties. Those between 18 and 24 had the highest arrest rate.  Typically, the 15-to-17 age group has the highest arrest rate. This change could be related to staffing reductions and strategic decisions made by law enforcement to focus available resources on adult populations.