The California Story: Reduced Crime, High Immigration

Reduced Crime California

As California’s population moved from two-thirds white in 1980 to over 60 percent people of color today (Table 1), the state has seen dramatic reductions in crime in each category. Additionally, indicators of social health and safety—such as violence, violent death and school dropouts—have decreased significantly, and California has weathered the national opioid epidemic better than elsewhere in the country.

Read the full report here: Refuting Fear

As of 2015, the state’s total violent and property crime rate was 52 percent lower than in 1970, 61 percent lower than in 1980, and 54 percent lower than in 1990, much larger declines than the nation overall experienced during the same periods (DOJ, 2017; FBI 2017). Since 1980, two demographic events have occurred alongside California’s decrease in crime that are important to explore:

  • Racial and ethnic diversity driven by foreign immigration has increased sharply;
  • Among young people (California’s most diverse population), crime and violence trends have diverged sharply from those of older populations, led by a 72 percent decrease in youth violent crime rates and a 92 percent drop in homicide arrests of urban youth from 1980 to 2015.

Reduced Crime CaliforniaThese trends have caught experts, officials, and interest groups by surprise. In the 1990s, leading criminologists predicted growing populations of youth of color would result in a “blood bath of teenaged violence” incited by “juvenile super-predators” (Dilulio, Jr., 1995; Newsweek, 1995). Similarly, in 2017, President Donald Trump is blaming people of color—specifically immigrants from Muslim-majority countries and Mexico—for causing increased crime, drug-related death, and “American carnage” (Johnson, 2015; Lee, 2015; Trump, 2017).

The President has also stated that “sanctuary cities” in particular “breed crime,” and that California is therefore “out of control” (Lee, 2017; Memoli, 2017). However, California’s crime trends in the all-minority population era have proven to be more positive than the nation overall. This is especially apparent in California’s largest cities, many of which have established local policies, or must adhere to state policy, limiting cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Mike Males
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

About Mike Males

Mike A. Males is a Senior Research Fellow at CJCJ. He has contributed research and co-authored numerous CJCJ publications, including on issues of drug policy, 3-strikes law, criminal justice realignment, and juvenile justice reform.

Dr. Males has a Ph.D. in Social Ecology from U.C. Irvine and over 12 years of experience working in youth programs. He is also content director of Youth Facts (