The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office saw slight increases in both burglaries and assaults but drops in all other types of the most frequently reported serious crimes last year in the unincorporated areas of the county, recent crime data reveals.
As The Tribune previously reported, crime data compiled from 2004 to 2014 indicates that reported rapes were nearly three times the national average in the city of San Luis Obispo, and a drop in violent crime in South County cities appears to coincide with an increase in property crimes there.
Trends in inland North County cities are more difficult to identify; along the coast, Morro Bay has continued to have a generally low crime rate except for a jump in thefts last year.
But according to Tribune calculations, crime in unincorporated parts of the county consistently ranked at or below national per capita crime rates for nonmetropolitan counties in the past 10 years.
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Statistics also show that crimes reported to the Sheriff’s Office — presumably in the unincorporated communities it serves — equate to about 23 percent of the county’s total reported crimes since 2004. However, residents in the unincorporated areas of the county make up about 44 percent of the county’s estimated 2014 total population.
The numbers only reflect reports of crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and vehicle theft — and not whether the report resulted in a criminal conviction.
Local law enforcement agencies report their respective raw data every year to the California Department of Justice and the FBI, which review the information and may accept or reject certain numbers.
The California Attorney General’s Office and the FBI publish those numbers in their annual crime reports. Crime statistics are considered preliminary until accepted by the state and federal government.
Data from the Sheriff’s Office for 2014 have been submitted and will be formalized in the reports, due out in September. Because those numbers are not official yet, comparisons to national rates refer to 2013 rates calculated by the FBI.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office documented two homicides, 10 rapes, 12 robberies, 241 aggravated assaults, 521 burglaries, 696 thefts and nine vehicle thefts.
The number of homicides fluctuates every year, reaching a 10-year high in 2010 with six homicides. Last year’s rate of homicide was 0.16 per 10,000 residents, below the national rate for nonmetropolitan counties.
Reported rapes have fluctuated over the past 10 years; last year the number dropped by more than half, with 10 reported rapes, or 0.81 rapes per 10,000 residents, well below the national rate for similar counties.
Robberies, however, have remained consistent. Robberies hit a 10-year peak in unincorporated San Luis Obispo County in 2012, settling last year at 12 robberies, also below the national rate.
Aggravated assaults have steadily increased since 2004 and spiked significantly in the past two years. Last year’s 241 serious assaults pushed the county well above the national rate for similar counties.
Property crime trends also were mixed over the past 10 years. Though burglary reports are on the rise, reports of theft have dropped and reports of vehicle theft have been generally consistent.
Burglaries declined during the first half of the decade, reaching a low of 416 in 2009 and steadily increasing despite a slight drop last year. The county remained well below the national burglary rate in 2014.
Thefts have seen a significant decline since 2004, when 1,052 were reported. Despite increases in 2010 and 2011, thefts dropped 11 percent between 2013 and 2014. Last year, the local theft rate of 56.2 thefts per 10,000 residents was far below the national rate.
Vehicle thefts in unincorporated areas have been remarkably low, staying in the single digits since 2007.
County Sheriff Ian Parkinson suggested the surge in popularity of heroin and other opiates may play a role in the bump in burglaries over the past five years. He also noted increasing numbers of burglaries on private ranches in recent years where items such as power tools are often taken because they can be easily sold for quick cash.
Parkinson said any differences in crime trends by region of the county are subtle.
“In North County we see a lot (of crimes) related to the gang issue. In South County it’s similar but not to me as fearful,” Parkinson said. “And in some areas we’ve seen slight changes; some good, some bad, but nothing that really catches the eye.”
In 2014, the Sheriff’s Office made a total of 4,062 arrests.
Parkinson said he believes the positive numbers reflect the Sheriff’s Office’s effort in recent years to not only refill positions left vacant during the economic recession, but also to increase those deputies’ presence in communities such as Shandon and Creston that have traditionally seen fewer units on patrol and longer response times.
He said his fleet’s annual mileage shows the expanded presence: In 2010, sheriff’s deputies logged a total of about 1.1 million miles, about 1.3 million miles in 2011 and nearly 1.5 million miles last year.
“When I came in, I was looking at a lot of different ways we could get more black and whites on the street,” Parkinson said. “It only helps deter crime and is one of those immeasurables.”