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After Eight Years, Crime is on the Rise

By Teresa Rochester

April 28 -- After nearly a decade in decline, major crime increased in Santa Monica, from 4,694 incidents in 2000 to 4,909 last year, or a 4.6 percent hike, according to the police department's 2001 annual report.

Robbery incidents saw the greatest jump, while rapes and aggravated assaults saw a marked drop. Homicides remained steady, with two occurring in both 2000 and 2001, compared to the three that already have occurred in the first four months of this year.

Major crimes against persons - homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery - rose by 1.4 percent in 2001, following a 2.7 percent increase in 2000, which saw a 3.9 percent overall drop in major crimes, a category that also includes property crimes (burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and arson).

Santa Monica's crime hike mirrors trends in other local jurisdictions and throughout the country, where an upswing in the crime rate follows years of decline.

The fact that crime had dropped for eight straight years was long heralded in the opening pages of previous annual reports. But in the 2001 report, mention of an increase in major crime was reserved for the statistics section at the back of the 77-page document.

Instead, the current report's introduction focuses on the department's efforts to upgrade its technology, reach out more to the community and address a severe personnel shortage exacerbated by a record number of officers lured into early retirement by new retirement incentives.

While two special enforcement teams bore the brunt of the shortage with their officers reassigned to patrol, 2001 also saw the largest academy class graduate in the department's history and the greatest number of officers join the force.

According to the report, property crimes jumped by 5.1 percent last year, with larcenies -- which rose 2 percent, from 2,962 in 2000 to 3,020 last year -- accounting for 61.9 percent of all major crimes committed last year.

Defined as the "unlawful taking, carrying, leading or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another," most of the larcenies (40.7 percent) involved the theft of items or parts from vehicles, followed by thefts from buildings and shoplifting.

Bicycle thefts nearly doubled, from 196 in 2000 to 359 last year. Six percent more motor vehicles were stolen in the city last year than in 2000. Of the 515 vehicles stolen, 218 were recovered.

Burglaries -- which had declined steadily between 1994 and 2000 -- rose by 19.4 percent, from 603 in 2000 to 720 last year. Still, the number of reported burglaries was the fourth lowest since 1956, the earliest year crime records are available.

Of the overall burglaries --which involve the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft -- residential burglaries increased by 10 percent, while non-residential burglaries saw a 30 percent increase.

Robbery, which is committed by taking or attempting to take anything of value from a person by threat or force, rose by 16 percent, from 268 to 312 last year, with more than half of the incidents involving physical force.

Commercial robberies increased from 60 to 90, while robberies committed on the street or in public places rose from 196 to 216. Residential robberies, however, dropped from 11 to 6.

While robbery was on the rise, other crimes against persons saw large drops. Rapes in Santa Monica decreased 23 percent, from 31 in 2000 to 24 in 2001, the second lowest annual total since 1966, when 11 rapes were reported.

Aggravated assaults fell 8 percent in 2001, from 344 in 2000 to 316 last year. Last year's total was the lowest number reported since 1983, according to the report.

During 2001, 15 gang-related crimes occurred in the city, one more than the previous year. There were no gang-related homicides or rapes, while the number of vandalism incidents reported remained at 5.

A crime is classified as gang-related if the suspects are identified as gang members, a person is a victim because of gang affiliation or an informant identifies the incident as gang activity, according to the report.  


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