ESCONDIDO — Homicides, rapes and thefts in Escondido declined in 2021 while other violent crimes, such as robberies and assaults, rose during the same period, per crime data released last month by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
In total, violent crimes rose slightly — from 569 to 604 — between 2020 and 2021, while property crimes declined from 2,697 recorded violations to 2,625 between the two years (overall crime index dropped from 3,266 to 3,229).
In 2020, the Sheriff’s Department recorded five homicides and 51 rapes, whereas the 2021 data reflects just two homicides and 48 rapes by comparison. However, crimes categorized as armed robberies (robberies committed with the use of a weapon) rose from 43 to 64, strong-armed robberies (robberies involving force with or without a weapon) rose from 75 to 89, and aggravated assaults rose slightly from 395 to 400 in 2021.
Both the 2020 and 2021 numbers, however, well exceeded the city’s crime statistics in 2019, where Escondido saw 2,905 crimes committed (including both violent and property crimes).
One category of crime not included in the Sheriff’s Department data was acts related to illegal narcotics use/possession/sale.
The Escondido Police Department has been beset in both 2020 and 2021 by a steady rise in crimes related to drugs, especially methamphetamine and fentanyl, according to Lt. Bode Barreth, the department’s public information officer.
“We’ve been working a lot these last couple of years on street-level drug use, working on those types of enforcements and putting resources towards that specific issue,” Barreth said. “With drug-related crime, it’s hard to track — there’s a noticeable drug component to be sure in Escondido that we’ve been actually addressing, especially in the city’s motel corridor area.”
Methamphetamine and fentanyl overdoses have also risen significantly in the past two years, according to Barreth. In addition to ongoing issues with narcotics usage, the lieutenant said that the Police Department saw a steep climb in catalytic convert thefts from vehicles during 2021.
“One of the main things that came up this year was a rise in catalytic converter thefts, and we’re working with the District Attorney’s Office and our regional task force partners to combat this,” Barreth said.
Converter thefts are on the rise not only in Escondido but across North County and statewide, as the market value of the converters has risen to around $200. In addition, the part is relatively easy to remove, making it a juicy target for thieves, Barreth added.
Gang-related crimes also made an unfortunate reappearance last year, as an apparent truce between gangs during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have evaporated.
“We have seen some activity picking back up with these gangs… with robberies and burglaries going up, it lends some value to that evidence we’re seeing with the gang activity,” Barreth said.
While some of the discrepancies between 2020 and 2021 are more attributable to expected annual fluctuations in crime data, Barreth said some of the data shifts are undeniably impacted by the pressure of the pandemic on the criminal justice system.
During much of 2020, county courts were largely closed, and jails had certain limits on how many inmates they could house due to concerns about the coronavirus. Additionally, police were restricted more than usual in the offenses that they could book suspects for — for instance, an individual caught in the possession of narcotics was no longer automatically taken to jail, but instead issued a citation, Barreth said.
Combined with other factors such as criminal justice reforms at the state level, the lieutenant said that Escondido saw a considerable increase in recidivism — suspects reoffending repeatedly — during 2020 as compared to 2021, when many of these pandemic-era measures were eased.
“Yeah, we definitely observed a higher rate of recidivism during the pandemic, you’d have people who we caught repeatedly that we issued citations for instead of booking them into county jail, I was personally a part of some of those situations,” Barreth said.