James Queally, Kate Mather and Cindy Chang
April 1, 2017

In 2013, something changed on the streets of Los Angeles.

Police officers began making fewer arrests. The following year, the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest numbers dipped even lower and continued to fall, dropping by 25% from 2013 to 2015.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period.

The statewide numbers are just as striking: Police recorded the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years, according to the California attorney general’s office, with about 1.1 million arrests in 2015 compared with 1.5 million in 2006.

It is unclear why officers are making fewer arrests. Some in law enforcement cite diminished manpower and changes in deployment strategies. Others say officers have lost motivation in the face of increased scrutiny — from the public as well as their supervisors.

The picture is further complicated by Proposition 47, a November 2014 ballot measure that downgraded some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. Many police officers say an arrest isn’t worth the time it takes to process when the suspect will spend at most a few months in jail.

In Los Angeles, the drop in arrests comes amid a persistent increase in crime, which began in 2014. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted that arrests for the most serious crimes have risen along with the numbers of those offenses, while the decrease comes largely from narcotics arrests.

The arrest data include both felonies and misdemeanors — crimes ranging from homicide to disorderly conduct. From 2010 to 2015, felony arrests made by Los Angeles police officers were down 29% and misdemeanor arrests were down 32%.

Two other measures of police productivity, citations and field interviews, have also declined significantly.

The LAPD could not provide final tallies for arrests in 2016. But based on numbers that include arrests by other agencies within city limits, the downward trend continued last year, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said.

A direct link between the crime pattern and the drop in arrests is difficult to draw, in part because the arrest data include minor offenses not counted in the tally the city uses to measure crime. Still, some city officials are concerned.
“Those are dramatic numbers that definitely demand scrutiny and explanation.” — L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin

“Those are dramatic numbers that definitely demand scrutiny and explanation,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the Public Safety Committee and represents the Westside. “If crime was dramatically down, I wouldn’t have a problem with arrests going down. But if crime is going up, I want to see arrests going up.”

Beck said although arrests are an important component of policing, they are not the sole barometer of officer productivity. As an example, he pointed to community policing programs that he credits with reducing homicides in housing developments hit hard by violent crime.

Modern policing includes an array of strategies, such as swarming hot spots to prevent crimes from occurring, that may increase public safety without generating many arrests, he said.

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