What’s crime like in your community? FBI releases data for 7 SLO County cities

In August 2016, two people were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at a home on Greenwood Avenue in Morro Bay. It was one of four homicides in the county that year.
In August 2016, two people were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at a home on Greenwood Avenue in Morro Bay. It was one of four homicides in the county that year.

Violent crime in San Luis Obispo dropped slightly from 2015 to 2016, but property crime spiked in the county’s largest city, according to the FBI’s latest crime statistics.

This week, the FBI’s released its annual national Uniform Crime Reporting database includes data on each of the county’s seven cities.

San Luis Obispo had the highest number of documented offenses, including 2,076 property crimes and 178 violent crimes in 2016. In comparison, Paso Robles, the county’s second-largest city, recorded 977 property crimes and 67 violent crimes last year.

A total of four homicides were reported in SLO County cities in 2016: two in Morro Bay and one each in Atascadero and Grover Beach.

The report tallies crime stats nationwide, citing “offenses known to law enforcement,” meaning criminal incidents documented by police without additional information on an arrest or a case resolution.

The local data focused only on property (burglary, theft and car theft) and violent (murder or manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) crimes. Offenses like drug possession or fraud weren’t included.

Nationwide, violent crime rose 4.1 percent in 2016, while property crime fell 1.3 percent compared to 2015 figures.

“The more complete the data, the better we can inform, educate, and strengthen all of our communities,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Wray called for the country to “get beyond anecdotal evidence and collect more comprehensive data so that we have a clearer and more complete picture of crime in the United States” to facilitate informed dialogue within cities.

Crime in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo’s property crimes (including burglary, theft and car theft) increased by 12.6 percent last year over 2015 figures. The number of rapes rose to 39 in 2016, from 34 in 2015, a 14.7 percent jump. Aggravated assaults dropped to 118 in 2016, from 146 the year before, a 19.1 percent decline.

Police chief Deanna Cantrell said that incident calls in San Luis Obispo have increased significantly in recent years. But the department’s 59 sworn officers is roughly the same number as 1998.

“As those calls increase, so do work calls for service, rather than preventing crimes through proactive policing,” Cantrell said. “There’s less time to interact with community and have positive interactions. Knowing where to be and being there at the right time can do a lot to prevent crime.”

The department recently hired a part-time data analyst to study city crime trends, Cantrell said.

San Luis Obispo Police Capt. Chris Staley said the department believes the passage of Proposition 47 has contributed to more property crimes. The new law reduced drug possession, among other crimes, from a felony to a misdemeanor.

“Some people who used to be incarcerated (under the past law) for drug crimes are now out and tend to steal to fund their drug habit,” Staley said. “We suspect that’s where our increased property crime impact comes in.”

Cantrell said none of the city’s rapes in 2016 were stranger rapes, meaning the alleged victim and suspect of reported sexual assaults knew each other. Often, alcohol was involved, Cantrell said.

“I think in the past rape was under-reported, but I think for women the stigma attached to reporting rape is starting to lessen,” Cantrell said.

Around the county

In Paso Robles, the total number of property crimes dropped to 977 in 2016 compared with 1,106 in 2015, a 13.2 percent dip. Violent crime went up slightly with 67 incidents reported, compared with 62 in 2015. Rapes doubled to 8 from 4 in a year’s time, and robberies spiked to 20 from 12.

The increase in violent crime is primarily attributed to a series of robberies that occurred in Paso Robles and the North County last fall, said Paso Robles Police Chief Robert Burton. But crime has remained relatively flat in Paso Robles over the years, a testament to the department’s work, Burton said.

“The men and women of the Paso Robles PD work extremely hard to keep our community safe; we too monitor crime trends closely to ensure our strategies and focus are effective in combating crime and keeping the community safe,” Burton said.

Atascadero, the county’s third-largest city with a population of 30,108, saw the second-highest total number of violent offenses with 83 in 2016, down slightly from 90 in 2015. The city reported 11 rapes, equaling its total from 2015. Robberies were down, as the city tallied seven in 2016 versus 15 the prior year. Property crime went up slightly to 501 offenses in 2016 compared with 475 in 2015.

“These stats are pretty standard for us,” said Atascadero Police administration Sgt. Caleb Davis. “If we’re doubling or tripling our numbers, then it’s something we need to take a closer look at.”

Arroyo Grande’s property crime dropped by about 20 percent with 334 cases in 2016 from 418 in 2015. Violent crime has held steady with 35 reported incidents in both 2016 and 2015.

Morro Bay, at 10,719 residents, was the county’s safest city in terms of total crimes reported in 2016, with 17 violent crimes (second lowest) and 204 property crimes tallied. Violent crime was down by a sizable margin, from 46 the year before, a drop of 63 percent.

Pismo Beach, with 8,264 residents, had the lowest total of violent crimes of any local city with 12 committed in 2016. However, the city also reported 513 property crimes, the third most in the county.

In Grover Beach, total violent crime rose from 33 to 40 cases. Property crime also fell in 2016, from 345 to 320, including a drop in car thefts from 36 to 21.