Crime spiked during the riot last year but an increase in riot-related calls was offset by a decrease due to pandemic closures.

Santa Monica crime figures for 2020 were driven by two huge trends with impacts from the global COVID-19 pandemic offsetting the May 31 riot to settle at about a 5.5% reduction in serious crime for the year.

Part 1 offenses, traditionally defined as the more serious crimes, declined by about 255 calls last year according to figures from the Santa Monica Police Department.

According to SMPD, there were declines in murder, robbery, aggravated assault and larceny. Burglaries increased as did car theft and arson. Rape calls were identical year on year.

SMPD reported huge declines in Larceny, otherwise known as theft. There were 253 fewer shoplifting incidents and 406 fewer thefts from vehicles last year. Across all theft categories, Santa Monica saw a 21 percent decline or about 670 fewer incidents.

That decrease can be attributed in large part to pandemic repercussions.

“With the stores being closed, the targets were not there so the opportunity isn’t there for the shoplifting,” said SMPD Lt. Roberto Villegas. “Along with that, when the stores were closed our parking structures had a much lower incidence of these crimes because there was just a much lower count of cars.”

Villegas said that while there were vastly fewer cars in downtown and beach lots last year, SMPD actually saw the car theft trend begin in January, prior to the pandemic. He said the department had responded to an increase in car thefts from prior years by increasing patrols in lots and partnering with other organizations to help deter car thefts.

While theft was down, non-residential burglary (defined as taking something from a building) skyrocketed by 193 percent due in part to the May 31 riot.

Villegas said the crime numbers reflect “incidents” not individual suspects or even specific locations. An incident of looting could be a single count in the numbers if it was isolated but there’s a formula for determining the total incidents based on the number of suspects and crimes committed.

Of the 528 non-residential burglaries about 34% occurred during the riots but burglaries of stores continued to be high throughout the pandemic as stores remained closed.

In addition to burglary, the theft of auto parts, specifically catalytic converters increased 272 percent due to the increased opportunity for theft with cars parked for extended periods of time. There were 19 additional arsons in 2020 (a 95% increase).

Aggravated Assault incidents decreased by 12% year on year. Of the 281 incidents, 84 resulted in the arrest of a homeless individual and 31 were homeless-on-homeless attacks.

Residential burglaries increased last year and 47% of cases involved a theft from a garage. The second most impacted location were apartments and single family homes were third.

The decline in Part 1 crimes continues a trend from 2019. After reaching a historically low level in 2014, the rate of Part 1 crimes, which include murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, theft, grand theft auto and arson, rose 29% between 2015 and 2018. However, the figures fell by 16% in 2019.

However, the Part 1 figures don’t represent all crimes within the city and low level incidents are not included in the figures.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...