42 Years of Crime in the San Diego Region: 1980 Through 2021
SANDAG has been reporting crime statistics for the San Diego region since 1980 through a cooperative agreement with local law enforcement agencies. This report discusses crime trend data for the past 42 years. Crime rates per 1,000 individuals, as well as the actual number of crimes reported, are presented.
SANDAG is the only local entity to compile and analyze these statistics historically across the 18 incorporated cities, as well as the unincorporated areas of the county, making this information some of the most frequently requested from the SANDAG Criminal Justice Clearinghouse. This data benefits local law enforcement, policy makers, and the community in general for tracking public safety trends over time, as well as the effectiveness of prevention and response efforts.
In 2021, law enforcement in the San Diego region received reports of 12,495 Part I violent crimes, an increase of 8% from 2020. The violent crime rate per 1,000 individuals also increased by 8% from 3.45 in 2020 to 3.74 in 2021.
The most common type of violent crime committed in 2021 was aggravated assault (71%), followed by robbery (19%), rape (9%), and homicide (1%). According to statistics from the National Crime Victimization Survey, 40% of violent crime nationwide in 2020 was reported to law enforcement (the most recent year available), including 57% of aggravated assaults, 54% of robberies, and 23% of rapes.
Over the past year, violent crime rates increased in 16 jurisdictions and decreased in five (four jurisdictions had numbers too small for valid comparisons or did not collect data for the entire year). The one-year increases ranged in size from 1% in Encinitas to 51% in Poway.
Annual Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics through 2020 were used to compare changes over time in the violent crime rate reported in the San Diego region to those reported across the United States. The San Diego region experienced a greater rise in violent crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s compared to the nation, returning to a similar violent crime rate after 1998. This increase was possibly related to the prevalence of methamphetamine distribution and use in the region during this time. In 2020, the violent crime rate in the San Diego region was 3.45, compared to 3.99 for the U.S.
Notes: The 2021 rate for Coronado is not shown, because data was not provided for the full calendar year.
"Unincorporated" includes 4S Ranch, Alpine, Fallbrook, Lakeside, Ramona, Spring Valley, and Valley Center, Campo, Julian, Pine Valley, Ranchita, and the unincorporated areas of Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, and Vista.
Percent changes are based on computed crime rates rounded to the precision level of two decimal places.
The number of homicides in the San Diego region peaked at 278 in 1991. This high was followed by a steady drop between 1993 and 1998, then fluctuations that included a low of 67 in 2010. There were 118 total homicides in 2021, a slight increase from 115 in 2020.
There were 1,072 rapes reported in the San Diego region in 2021, an 11% increase from 2020. The FBI revised definition of rape in 2013 to includes male victims and a greater number of eligible actions. Between 1980 and 2014 (under the legacy definition), the number of reported rapes remained relatively stable compared to other types of violent crime reported during the same period. The number jumped to 1,100 in 2015 under the new definition and reached a high of 1,162 in 2018. The 2021 number of reported rapes increased by 11% from 2020.
The number of aggravated assaults followed an upward trend beginning in 1985 that peaked in 1994 at 15,406 cases. This overall increase was due at least in part to 1986 legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to report all domestic violence incidents. These numbers declined between 1994 and 2015 but have increased each year since then. In 2021, the total increased to 8,887, the highest since 2005. 
Over the past 42 years, the number of robberies began an upward trend in 1984, which peaked at 8,554 in 1992. Since then, there has been a general decline, with some leveling off and fluctuations. There were 2,418 robberies reported in the region in 2021, a decrease of 4% from 2020 and a new 42-year low.
Property crime constitutes 81% of crimes reported to law enforcement. In 2021, one in every 62 individuals reported a property crime, for a total of 53,957. Though the 2021 property crime rate of 16.14 was 9% higher than in 2020, it was still the second lowest in the past 42 years. Of the property crimes reported in 2021, 66% were larcenies, 21% were motor vehicle thefts, and 13% were burglaries.
Across the region, 2021 property crime rates per 1,000 individuals ranged from 4.46 in Ramona to 20.64 in National City. Property crime rates in 2021 increased in 16 jurisdictions compared to 2020 (ranging from 2% in Vista to 51% in Valley Center) and decreased in eight jurisdictions (ranging from -1% in El Cajon to -22% in Spring Valley).
The following graph compares property crimes reported to law enforcement in the San Diego region to national statistics from 1980 through 2020. In 1980, the San Diego region had a higher property crime rate compared to the U.S. overall. The local property crime rate began to decline in the early 1990s, falling and remaining below the national average after 1995. In 2020, the property crime rate for the region was 14.80, compared to 19.58 for the nation.
Note: The 2021 rate for Coronado is not shown because data was not provided for the full calendar year.
Burglary is the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft. The number of burglaries (including residential and non-residential) reported in the region declined between 1980 and 1984, then began an upward trend, reaching 35,233 in 1988. Three years later, an eight-year decline began, followed by a small number of increases, and then a general decline. The 7,149 reported burglaries in 2021 represented the lowest number in the past 42 years and the ninth consecutive decrease. Burglary was the only property crime statistic in the region to decrease from 2020 to 2021.
Larceny, or theft, was the most common crime in 2021, with one victim in every 94 residents. The number of larcenies fluctuated in the early 1980s but began an upward trend in 1985. The number peaked at 85,448 in 1989, then decreased until 2000. Statistics have fluctuated since then, with a 9% increase from 2020 to 2021. While this increase was not small, the 2021 figure of 35,663 was the second lowest in the past 42 years.
Motor Vehicle Theft
Motor vehicle thefts in the San Diego region increased annually beginning in 1983 and reached a high of 40,897 in 1989. This upward trend was followed by a shorter period of decreases, a short period of increases, and then a decline to the low of 9,460 in 2014. Since then, there have been fluctuations, with an increase of 20% this past year, from 9,325 in 2020 to 11,145 in 2021, or one theft for every 255 motor vehicles in the region. The value of these stolen vehicles was estimated at $122.97 million, representing 50% of the total value of property stolen.
The San Diego region reported 66,452 Part I crimes in 2021, which equates to 19.88 crimes per 1,000 individuals. Part I crimes include four violent offenses (homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and three property offenses (burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) that are tracked nationwide in a standardized manner by the FBI, with agencies submitting crime data through the UCR system. Other crimes, such as drug-related offenses, vandalism, and fraud, also are documented by local law enforcement as Part II crimes. However, because categorization schemes can vary across agencies, standardized numbers for Part II crimes are not available, even though these crimes may be sizeable in number and require substantial attention and resources from law enforcement.
A crime can be cleared for reporting purposes when at least one person is arrested or by “exceptional means” (e.g., offender’s death, extradition, etc.). Not surprisingly, the clearance rates in 2021 varied by crime type, with violent crimes cleared more frequently than property crimes. The crimes of homicide and aggravated assault had the highest clearance rates, as these crimes receive maximum resources and (for assault) involve individuals with face-to-face contact who also may already know one another. While the motor vehicle theft clearance rate is the second lowest of the seven Part I crimes, the vehicle recovery rate is considerably higher.
According to the California Penal Code, a hate crime is a criminal act committed in whole or in part because of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim. The Attorney General is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature regarding crimes motivated by a victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or physical or mental disability. Beginning in 2008, SANDAG asked local law enforcement agencies to share hate crime reports that were to be submitted to the state to allow for more timely statistics, as well as more detailed analysis for San Diego County not available in the state report. Thus, hate crimes are not separate, distinct crimes, but traditional offenses specifically motivated by the offender’s bias. In 2021, regional law enforcement reported a total of 81 hate crime events (7% fewer than 2020), which included a total of 102 victims and 69 known suspects.
1- The City of Coronado only reported crime statistics for this report for the first seven months of the year, and California Parks reported for only two months, because they have already transitioned to California’s Incident Based Reporting System (CIBRS). As such, crime rate and other comparisons to previous years are not presented. Due to small number of crimes these agencies represented in previous years totals, this missing data does not have a significant effect on regional totals and rates presented here.
2- Population estimates for 2020 were used at the time of the publication of this report because 2021 estimates were not available.
3- Morgan, R. E. & Thompson, A. (2021). Criminal Victimization, 2020 (NCJ 301775). Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
4- In 2021, there were an estimated three simple assaults for every reported aggravated assault (for a total of 21,590 simple assaults). Simple assault, which is not counted as a Part I crime, includes all assaults and attempted assaults which are not aggravated and do not result in serious injury to the victim. The number of simple assaults reported in 2021 represented a 2% increase from 2020.
5- According to statistics from the 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey, 33% of property crimes nationwide were reported to law enforcement, including 44% of burglaries, 75% of motor vehicle thefts, and 29% of other thefts.
Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Justice Statistics, California Department of Finance, SANDAG, SANDAG Vintage Population Estimates (2020)