Although certain jurisdictions experienced a significant percentage increase in crime in 2020, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown maintains that the threat to the average person remains “very limited.”
The Sheriff’s Office released its 2020 crime statistics on Thursday, which showed that serious offenses were up 18% compared to the year prior. Overall, Part 1 violent crime was up 7%, and Part 1 property crimes were up 20%, compared to 2019 for areas policed by the Sheriff’s Office, which includes unincorporated areas of the county and the cities of Buellton, Solvang, Goleta and Carpinteria.
Crime rates were up in Carpinteria (65%), Buellton (53%), Unincorporated areas (18%), Goleta (11%) and Solvang (10%). This includes a 350% increase in property crimes in the Buellton area, as well as a 91% increase in violent crimes in Carpinteria. Though while the percentages “look pretty alarming,” Sheriff Brown said it’s important to take into account the number of crimes that occurred that caused the percentages to increase so rapidly.
“Like Carpinteria, for example, had a 65% increase in overall crime; a 91% increase in violent crime, but that was 10 additional (violent) crimes … it sounds as though the sky is falling but less than one additional crime per month shot the numbers up by that percentage,” he said. “So it’s really important to understand that and to look at both the percentage increase and the base number that you’re talking about as well.”
In 2020, there were seven more property crimes in the Buellton area compared to 2019.
Sheriff Brown said that areas like Carpinteria and Buellton remain very safe places, and that less than one additional crime per month caused Carpinteria’s violent crime rate to increase so significantly.
“The threat to the average person, in a community like Carpinteria or Goleta or Solvang or Buellton is very limited,” he said. “And they are very safe cities; it’s just that we’ve seen this additional increase.”
The crime statistics are submitted for inclusion within the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports system. The system compares stats from law enforcement agencies across the nation providing an “apples to apples comparison,” Sheriff Brown said.
The statistics are not further broken down to identify gang-related crimes, though Sheriff Brown said that the Sheriff’s Office is working with the Board of Supervisors to try and identify funding for a data analyst. The Sheriff’s Office is also in the process of upgrading some of its systems.
Through its crime statistics, the Sheriff’s Office is trying to determine how the pandemic has impacted local crime rates.
“In other words, not only has (the pandemic) taken away some and provided other opportunities for crimes to be committed, but the level of accountability for people who are arrested for crimes or who are caught committing crimes and maybe not arrested … because of the COVID situation and the concern in the jail for overcrowding and us being a congregate living facility and so forth, what impact is that having on crime as well?
“We don’t know the answer to that yet … we’re still trying to study that and trying to dig into that, but I can tell you that we’ve reduced our population significantly in the jail.”
As of Feb. 12, there were 639 inmates at the jail. On March 18, 2020, before local health orders took place, the jail was housing some 830 inmates. There are also 93 inmates who are currently awaiting placement, Sheriff Brown said.
He expects the “no bail rule,” which allowed people who were arrested for minor offenses to be quickly released without paying any bail, will remain in place for the near future.
“It’s been locally adopted, and just as a result of the pandemic and the situation … despite herculean efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we’ve had several outbreaks in the jail and inmates and staff alike, who have been impacted by it,” Sheriff Brown said. “So we have to keep the jail numbers down so that we can spread the inmates apart and distance them and all of that.”
The Northern Branch Jail, which includes a 376-bed jail facility that includes 32 beds for medical and mental health treatment, is expected to be “substantially completed” by this summer and will be able to help handle the local inmate population.