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Report Tracks Crime Trends in California and the U.S. during the COVID Pandemic

Berkeley, CA, September 16, 2021 — New research released today by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab (CPL) shows that as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted daily lives, crime in California and across the country also changed in dramatic ways. CPL analyzed data on violent and property crime in 2020 as compared to 2019, and compared California to the rest of the U.S.

“The overall violent crime rate in California increased only slightly between 2019 and 2020, while the violent crime rate in the rest of the US increased by a larger margin. However, when you look at specific crime types within the violent crime category, there were some diverging trends,” explains Steve Raphael, a public policy professor at UC Berkeley and co-author of the analysis. “In California, homicides increased by 31% and aggravated assaults increased by 9%, while robberies decreased by 14% and rapes decreased by 8%. The increases in certain crime rates, especially homicide, are troubling, though it’s also important to keep in mind that California’s homicide rate is 61.8% less than its peak in 1980.”

At the same time, property crime in California decreased by 7.7% in 2020, driven by decreases in burglary and larceny that offset an increase in motor vehicle thefts.

The research team analyzed crime data from 437 cities throughout California, representing 80% of California’s population. This new research expands on a CPL analysis for the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code.
Crime rates per 100,000 in California and the rest of the United States for 2019 and 2020.

Crime rates per 100,000 in California and the rest of the United States for 2019 and 2020

 Source: Crime in California, 2020, California Department of Justice, 2019 Crime in the United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and 2020 Census data

Additional background

The research team used Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), California Department of Justice (DOJ) data, and U.S. Census data to assess the degree to which crime in 2020 changed relative to crime in 2019 in California.


The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent issues, including homelessness, poverty, criminal justice reform, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

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