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Theft, Assaults Drove Increase in Crime Last Year


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By Jorge Casuso

February 14, 2024 -- Crime in Santa Monica increased by 352 reported incidents last year -- driven by stolen property, auto theft and simple assault -- while homeless individuals once again accounted for some two-thirds of the total arrests made.

Larceny, defined as the unlawful taking of property; grand theft auto (GTA) and simple assault, which does not involve a weapon or result in serious injury, accounted for an increase of 703 crimes last year.

Arrests Over 5 Years

According to Police Department data presented to the City Council Tuesday, serious crime increased by 129 incidents, or 2.7 percent, with larceny accounting for nearly 60 percent of the 4,884 incidents reported. Reported incidents of grand theft auto rose by 35 percent.

Meanwhile less serious Part II crime increased by 223 reported incidents to 3,484, driven by a 15 percent increase in simple assault.

Arrests were up last year from 2,438 in 2022 to 2,723, but remain far below the 3,840 arrests made by police in 2019.

Of the arrests last year, 988 were for felonies and 1,728 for misdemeanors. The homeless accounted for 67.57 percent of the arrests, slightly up from 66.9 percent in 2022.

Arrests Housed vs Unhoused

Meanwhile, calls for service decreased by 1 percent -- from 104,061 in 2022 to 103,462 last year, with police initiating one-quarter of the calls. Incidents involving the homeless accounted for 19 percent of all calls.

Larceny was by far the most prevalent of the Part I crimes, which also include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, grand theft auto (GTA) and arson.

Larceny -- which includes shoplifting and theft -- accounted for 59 percent of the serious crimes last year, with 2,895 incidents reported -- up from 2,453 in 2022 but down compared to 2019.

"Larceny plays an out-sized role," Police Chief Ramon Batista told the Council. "If we could make a dent on the amount of shoplifting and theft, we would be down below" the level of serious crime in 2022.

There were 648 incidents of burglary reported (a 3.4 percent decrease), 569 incidents of GTA (up by 149 incidents), 460 incidents of robbery (up by 9 incidents), and 231 incidents of aggravated assault (a slight decrease).

Robbery, or the forceful taking of property, has also increased, with "Estes robberies" that use force during shoplifting up, Batista said.

"It takes (the use of force) to a whole new level," the Chief said. "It's not the kind of random acts of violence."

Incidents of auto theft have consistently increased over the past five years, according to the data.

Hyundai was the most popular stolen model for the past two years, followed by Toyota, police said. Kia thefts have spiked in the last two years.

"Larceny and grand theft auto continue to plague the country, and Santa Monica is a microcosm," Batista said.

The number of reported rapes increased last year from 39 to 45, while murders dropped from 3 in 2022 to 1.

In last year's only murder, a man was fatally stabbed at Santa Monica Beach by a homeless man on July 31 ("Man Fatally Stabbed at Santa Monica Beach," August 1, 2023).

Also increasing last year was Part II crime, which includes simple assault, loitering, disorderly conduct, DUI, drug offenses, public drunkenness, stolen property, vandalism, vagrancy and weapons offenses.

The increase was largely driven by simple assaults, which rose from 747 incidents in 2022 to 859 last year, or 15 percent.

Meanwhile, vandalism declined 2.6 percent -- from 750 incidents in 2022 to 730, while public intoxication remained stable at 248 incidents.

The use and sale of narcotics rose from 229 incidents in 2022 to 289 last year, a 25 percent increase.

Batista attributed the increase to "officers proactively going out and making sure this doesn't happen in our public space."

Fraud incidents also increased from 241 to 281, a 16.6 percent hike.

DUI incidents rose from 167 in 2022 to 182, reaching the 2019 level, and weapons incidents increased slightly from 54 to 56, below the 87 incidents reported in 2019.

Vagrancy dropped from 41 to 36 incidents, far below the 117 incidents in 2019, while sex offenses against common decency and knowingly dealing with stolen property were slightly down.

Of the seven major city parks, Palisades Park had the most calls for service with some 1,600 calls, followed by Reed Park with some 1,300 calls. The vast majority of the calls were initiated by officers.

Tongva Park across from City Hall and Virginia Avenue Park had some 600 calls each.

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