ENCINITAS — Largely due to a surge in property crimes, the overall crime rate in Encinitas increased by 31% in 2021, according to SANDAG’s latest crime report released on Tuesday.
According to the report, crime throughout San Diego County rose by 9% between 2020 and 2021, with violent crime increasing by 8% and property crimes rising by 9% (Violent crimes were categorized as homicides, rapes, and aggravated assaults. Property crimes included robberies, residential burglaries, larceny, and motor vehicle theft).
While the city’s violent crime level rose by just 2% — below the regional average — property crimes increased by a whopping 37% in 2021, the data showed.
Only the city of Solana Beach had a higher rate of property crime (49%) countywide.
Last year, $4,369,895 worth of property was reported stolen in Encinitas, a 16% increase from 2017. Of that stolen property (in dollar value), $699,640 was recovered.
Capt. Dustin Lopez, of the San Diego Sheriff’s North Coastal Station, said the numbers were predictable to law enforcement and reflect a combination of factors, including trends attributable to the pandemic and the impact of state policies on the criminal justice system.
Since crime rates in 2020 were lower throughout the county as a result of mandatory stay-at-home orders and business closures related to COVID-19, Lopez said that the 2021 increases, particularly in the property crime category, partially reflect an overall increase in social activity to be expected coming out of the pandemic.
“I knew the [crime rate] was going to be higher because with the pandemic people were completely in lockdown, stores weren’t open, so I knew that with the reopening of everything trickling into 2021 and people re-engaging in society, that overall crime and especially theft would likely go up,” Lopez said.
Cynthia Burke, senior director of data science at SANDAG, told The Coast News the regional crime uptick was indubitably connected to the end of pandemic-era stay-at-home orders. Burke also emphasized that last year’s numbers are still low relative to the preceding years.
“Considering our other figures in the report, our crime rates are still historically low,” Burke said. “Property crime rates increased 9%, for example, over the past year, but are still the second-lowest in the past 42 years. 2020 was also an unusual year with COVID and stay-home orders, and with things opening back up, there is more opportunity for crime than in the last calendar year.”
For instance, with more businesses open and more people out of their residences, an uptick in burglaries was largely consistent with what police were expecting, Lopez said. Like many municipalities statewide, Encinitas has also not been immune to a post-pandemic surge in petty thefts, he added.
Lopez also said that coastal cities throughout the county, including Encinitas, are experiencing an increase in transient populations, which he suspects is significantly contributing to the city’s escalated crime rate.
“Anytime you talk about beach communities like [Encinitas], you should talk about the transitory populations coming in and out of cities,” Lopez said. “I think with Highway 5 so close to the coastal cities it really allows for greater ingress/egress between cities down here. For instance, we’re seeing more criminals coming from Los Angeles into our cities, we’ve documented this through arrests, and we’ve really seen that transitory population coming in and having an impact here locally.”
But Lopez also blamed state policies for exacerbating crime at the local level. In particular, he pointed to Proposition 47 — a voter-approved referendum in 2014 that reclassified certain felonies as misdemeanors with lesser penalties — impacting drug and property crime numbers.
“We’ve seen a huge increase after Prop 47 in terms of drug and theft crimes,” Lopez said. “Prop 47 really had a huge impact on drug offenders, and there’s a direct correlation between drugs and theft-related crimes.
“Drug addictions are generally sponsored by illegal activity, and with Prop 47 it’s gotten harder to get people into rehabilitation programs and put that pressure on them, so we have a large drug-offending population out on the streets right now.”
Councilman Tony Kranz agreed with Lopez, saying the city’s rise in crime, at least partially, could be attributed to both post-pandemic trends and the impact of state policies. And similar to Lopez, Kranz also suggested the city’s reputation as a prime coastal destination was likely correlated with the surge in property crimes reflected in the SANDAG report.
“These [numbers] are consistent with what we’re seeing around the region and the state and the country really in terms of an uptick in crime,” he said. “It’s something that we as city leaders never rest about. We’re always trying to lower crime and we spend millions of dollars on our sheriff’s department and we have a captain who is totally focused on addressing the crime issue.”
“We don’t like these numbers but it’s one of the realities we live with is that there are criminal elements in our community, and frankly some of it is because of the affluence of our community. You have crime sprees with gangs that have identified this area as target-rich, and so as a city, we’ve been working to address that.”
Kranz also pointed out that while the 2021 numbers seemed grim, the overall crime rate in the city has still declined over larger spans of time.
“You look at these graphs on crime and they go up and down, and the reality is that 20 years ago these numbers were much, much higher, so we’ve really made improvements,” Kranz said. “There are people who are unhappy with our city that are pointing to this as evidence that we’re doing something wrong. But the reality is that we’ve spent millions on police enforcement and we have a really strong team of deputies out there working to reduce crime, and I think they’ve been doing a great job. But nonetheless, these issues will always be with us.”
Cid Martinez, an associate professor who researches crime reduction, community policing, and gang violence, at the University of San Diego, disagreed with Lopez and Kranz about the impact of state policies such as Prop 47 on Encinitas.
Rather, Martinez argued the recent rise in crime is largely tied to desperate socioeconomic conditions more than anything else.
“Not a whole lot of research shows that these propositions at the state level are directly related to increases in crime. Research done by UCI’s criminology department for instance shows that there’s actually very little evidence that state policies are responsible for increases in crime in California,” Martinez said. “Instead, this state is under a lot of duress and it’s not a coincidence that crime spikes significantly right after the pandemic. So for Encinitas, I would say that this is more attributable to economic and social conditions rather than state policy.
Some community members argued that city leaders need to take more accountability when it comes to issues of public safety in Encinitas.
Cindy Cremona, a local business owner and mayoral candidate, said most Encinitas residents, the numbers in the SANDAG report were unsurprising given the current state of city government.
“In my mind, this [report] confirms what residents have been saying and have been concerned about for the last two years,” Cremona said. “I think that the residents do have doubts and questions about current leadership, and it’s the reason why I’m running. City leadership needs to be more transparent and more forthcoming”
According to Cremona, to reduce crime, the city needs to develop a better relationship with its law enforcement partners while earning back the trust of citizens whose confidence has been eroded by the policies of the current city government, Cremona added.
“I think that the mayor and city government can better support the sheriff with resources, making sure they have what they need to do their jobs and be proactive against these crime waves and where we’re targeting our efforts,” Cremona said. “And you have to be proactive and not just reactive. A great relationship with the local sheriff’s department is really critical, and so is keeping on top of what’s happening and reassuring residents.
“I think that for residents in Encinitas, communication from local government about such matters is so important, just that residents hear from their leadership and see and understand what their leaders are accomplishing.”
Jeff Morris, also running for mayor, said the rise in crime can be attributed to the city’s deleterious policies on homelessness. In particular, Morris took issue with the city’s decision to provide hotel vouchers to the homeless during the pandemic. The majority of those taking advantage of this program have been out-of-town transients, who have driven the city’s subsequent crime wave, Morris argues.
“I believe that this [report] shows that our leaders are unfit to govern and lack the capacity to protect the community as well as the homeless,” Morris said. “They knew that their actions of filling our town with other cities’ homeless would bring this crime, they knew but they just lied about it.”
In turning the tide on the city’s crime numbers, Martinez said that it will be key for Encinitas to focus heavily on improving access to existing social services programs, particularly for youth and the unhoused.
“I believe that it’s important to focus on the youth, what sort of issues are confronting the youth in Encinitas, what kinds of supportive services can be provided, like after school programs and counseling, those kinds of things, and then with the unhoused population it’s key to look at what kinds of services are available for them as well, that would probably be the starting point,” he said.
“Additionally, it’s important for local law enforcement to conduct outreach to the areas most affected by these crimes, having dialogue and building relationships with those communities that are feeling the brunt of property crimes, the hot spots, so policing would be the first step and then also providing outreach to people in those targeted areas.”
Lopez said that in response to rising crime in Encinitas, the sheriff’s department is implementing a number of new public safety strategies that rely heavily on technology and targeted policing.
For instance, in high-crime areas sheriff’s units are now deploying mobile license plate readers that provide investigative leads into who is in the area at what time, a technique that Lopez says allows police to monitor situations before crimes even occur.
Lopez also said that he’s divided his own unit in two, with one-half of the force being specifically designated for “crime suppression”; personnel assigned to this group are given no duties except to spot and prevent property crimes (such as catalytic converter thefts) as they happen.
When it comes to “quality of life” crimes that tend to be heavily associated with issues of homelessness, mental illness and drug abuse, Lopez said the Sheriff’s department will push to work more closely with the mobile crisis response team, which is often better equipped to deal with individuals experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises.
“That’s probably going to be the biggest change you will see moving forward,” Lopez said. “I always say that it’s 10% of the population that’s causing 100% of the problems, so moving forward we’ll get more acute with our approach in finding and meeting the needs of unhoused individuals because once we can help them, we can save our resources to address the other 90% of the population. But until we affect these people, they’re going to be taking an abundance of our resources as a department.”
For the latest crime reports in Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar, please visit The Coast News’ Weekly Crime Reports. For up-to-the-minute arrest reports in North County, check out our Daily Arrest Logs.