California has fewer arrests, but not necessarily less crime

This Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011 photo shows the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Men's Central Jail facility in Los Angeles. The number of arrests by police in California has plunged in recent years, but that doesn't necessarily represent good news on crime, according to an analysis published Saturday, April 1. The state saw 1.5 million arrests for misdemeanors and felonies in 2015, the most recent year with figures available, according to the Los Angeles Times. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The number of arrests by police in California has plunged in recent years, but that doesn’t necessarily represent good news on crime, according to an analysis published Saturday.

The state saw 1.5 million arrests for misdemeanors and felonies in 2015, the most recent year with figures available, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/2ond2w4 ).

In Los Angeles, arrests dropped by 25 percent from 2013 to 2015, even as the city saw a spike in crime.

There’s no clear reason behind the decline.

Law enforcement officials said fewer officers and changes in strategy could be behind some of it.

Others said increased scrutiny of officers after a series of high-profile shootings and beatings, most involving black suspects, have led to less motivation.

In a national survey of law enforcement officers in 2016, 72 percent said they and their fellow officers were less likely to stop and question people because of such incidents.

“Not to make fun of it, but a lot of guys are like, ‘Look, I’m just going to act like a fireman.’ I’m going to handle my calls for service and the things that I have to do,” George Hofstetter, a motorcycle deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a former union leader for deputies, told the Times. “But going out there and making traffic stops and contacting persons who may be up to something nefarious? ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’ ”

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck did not agree, saying he hasn’t seen significant hesitance.

“I’d be denying human nature if I didn’t say police are very cautious about what they do now because of the scrutiny,” Beck said. “But do I see it? I don’t really see things that make me think that the workforce as a body is retreating. I don’t see that at all.”

Proposition 47, a ballot measure passed by state voters in November 2014, downgraded some felonies to misdemeanors, and many police officers told the Times that means those arrests are often not worth the time and effort they take.

Beck said in his city the increase has come in the most serious crimes, while the decrease has come from drug arrests.

But he said a positive change in policing is partly behind the drop in arrests, with less emphasis in his department on just making countless busts as was the case decades ago.

“The only thing we cared about was how many arrests we made,” Beck said. “I don’t want them to care about that. I want them to care about how safe their community is and how healthy it is.”

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