Recently released statistics reveal that San Luis Obispo city police received more reports of rape in 2014 than any year in a decade, and almost three times the rate for cities of similar size.
Last year’s data also indicates that serious assaults are on the rise, a trend found in nearly every San Luis Obispo County city, according to crime data provided to The Tribune from each police department and the county Sheriff’s Office.
The numbers only reflect reports of crimes, not whether they resulted in a conviction. Each year, local law enforcement agencies report their respective raw stats to the California Department of Justice and the FBI, which review the numbers and may accept or reject some cases.
Every summer, 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.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department published its data in a 2014 Annual Report, which can be found on its website.
In 2014, there were 44 reported rapes, 25 robberies, 168 aggravated assaults, 206 burglaries, 1,162 thefts and 71 vehicle thefts. Though crime trends generally ebb and flow, violent crimes of rape and assault have recently spiked while property crimes decreased or held steady.
The number of reported rapes is alarming, acting Police Chief Chris Staley said Friday, and the department’s detective bureau is looking into why. One possible cause, he said, is increased community outreach by groups such as RISE, formerly the Sexual Assault and Prevention Recovery Center and the North County Women’s Shelter and Resource Center.
Since the two organizations merged in 2013, the Police Department has worked with the non-profit in its “Start by Believing” campaign to get information to the public about resources such as counseling and crisis intervention.
“The purpose of those efforts is to make people feel more comfortable in coming forward and reporting (rape),” Staley said. “We have been looking at what we can do education-wise to inform people on those numbers and make them aware of ways to avoid being a victim.”
In 2013, the FBI began collecting statistics on rape under a new definition, and agencies across the state have followed suit. The new definition is more specific, replacing the term “force” with “consent.”
That year, San Luis Obispo reported a spike in reported rapes from 20 in 2012 to 34.
The city has also seen a five-year increase in the number of reported aggravated assaults, which are encounters between at least two people that result in a moderate to serious injury to at least one person. The city hit a decade low in those assaults with 64 in 2010, rising steadily to 168 in 2014, more than double the rate per 10,000 residents for similar cities.
But San Luis Obispo is not alone in that regard. Every city, with the exception of Arroyo Grande, reported some increase in aggravated assaults in 2014 and fell above the national assault rates per 10,000 residents, according to city and county data.
Staley said he did not know the reasons for that trend, but he said aggravated assault is a less specific crime than robbery, for example. He said his investigations division is analyzing the data to see if potential trouble locations can be identified.
There is some good news. Property crimes — burglary and theft — are in a three-year decline, and the city is seeing nearly half the vehicle thefts it did in 2004.
Larceny, or theft, is 19 percent above the rate for cities of similar size, however, and 60 percent higher than San Luis Obispo County’s rate in 2013.
Though the data does not include crimes reported on the Cal Poly campus, Staley said roughly 60 percent of students live off-campus and the department’s property crimes detectives have identified neighborhoods near Cal Poly as a large source of those incidents.
“Students live a little differently. There’s a lot of people not locking doors, surfboards left on top of cars,” Staley said. “We see a lot of things reported from that side of town.”
For the first time, the Police Department this year also included data on citizen complaints, officer use-of-force and internal investigations.
The department received 18 citizen complaints last year, 14 of which were ruled to be unfounded, two were sustained, one was withdrawn and two were pending investigation. Ten additional complaints were deemed to be from chronic complainers and unfounded.
The department documented 53 incidents of officer use-of-force out of a total 3,693 arrests. Officers employed force 35 times by using their empty hands, 10 times by striking someone’s hands or feet, five by use of a Taser, two with pepper spray and once with a baton.
Six internal investigations were conducted in 2014 when it was suspected an officer may have violated policy or the law. Half those investigations resulted in some training or disciplinary measure.
Not immediately reflected in the overall stats, Staley said, are accomplishments from the Police Department’s Community Action Team, which has been working to help the city’s most chronic low-level offenders find stable housing and drug and alcohol services.
Surveillance systems installed in Mission Plaza and at the Globe near the creek on Nipomo Street have also proven to be effective deterrents to crime in the last year, he said.
Staley, who has been with the department nearly 20 years, said that it was more or less an average year.
“The interesting thing with trends is that they are sometimes hard to explain, but the rape numbers are something we are paying close attention to,” Staley said. “We hope to find that outreach has been successful.”
View the San Luis Obispo City 2014 Annual Report.