Drugs, alcohol top reasons for arrests in Laguna Beach, police say

The Laguna Beach Police Department reported its 2022 crime statistics at the City Council meeting on March 21.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Police Department)

Laguna Beach law enforcement leaders presented crime statistics from the past year, reporting on trends and addressing some organizational changes within the police department.

Speaking to the Laguna Beach City Council on March 21, Police Chief Jeff Calvert shared that the department responded to 41,000 calls for service last year, with average response times bettering national goals.

Calvert described two categories of calls for service. Priority 1 calls involve a life-threatening situation, and Priority 2 calls can concern a threat to someone or immediate risk of property damage or loss.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics sets the national standard for response time at five minutes for Priority 1 calls and 20 minutes for Priority 2 calls, Calvert said. Laguna Beach fielded 41,000 calls for service last year, bettering the Priority 1 goal by 42 seconds. The department’s response time on Priority 2 calls averaged five minutes, 56 seconds.

Laguna Beach police made 1,165 arrests in 2022, down from 1,306 the previous year. Calvert attributed the dip in arrests to a staffing shortage and the decriminalization of drug offenses.

“Most of our arrests are overwhelmingly caused by drugs and alcohol, which account for our top three arrests,” he said. “It doesn’t help that our city is oversaturated with over 130 on-sale and off-sale alcohol establishments in town, coupled with being bordered by two other beach cities.

“Our new community outreach officer, Nicole Rice, has been doing a fantastic job partnering with alcohol beverage control to provide responsible beverage service training to the bars and restaurants.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf inquired as to whether data were available on where people had done their drinking immediately preceding a DUI. Calvert said that the location of one’s drinking is part of an officer’s line of questioning, and he added the department would be sending communications to in-town establishments identified to have been the place a person suspected of DUI came from.

Laguna Beach did not report a homicide for the second consecutive year, and aggravated assault incidents decreased by roughly a third, from 29 to 19.

Auto theft, however, has been on the rise. It went from 30 in 2020 to 38 in 2021, and the number grew to 47 in 2022. The inclusion of e-bikes in the reporting of that statistic has contributed to the increase, Calvert said. There were 27 e-bike thefts in 2022.

“Most of the e-bikes that were stolen were either left unlocked or had an inadequate lock or [were] taken at one of our schools or outside a residential property,” Calvert added. “Seeing this upward trend, we purchased an e-bike bait bike outfitted with a GPS tracker that we have been strategically placing throughout the city. We have successfully taken three people into custody for grand theft for stealing the bait bike, and we’ll continue to educate our kids and teens on proper ways to not only ride but to secure their bicycles.”

Laguna Beach also saw an uptick in traffic collisions from 439 in 2021. There were 504 accidents reported last year, with 193 of those resulting in an injury. Alcohol was a factor in roughly 10% of the incidents. Speed was ruled as the primary collision factor in a third of the crashes.

The police department has created a new traffic unit with a dedicated sergeant, and the unit will double the city’s motor officers from two to four.

Councilman George Weiss said that vehicle noise continues to be an issue for residents.

“We can continue to write citations and people are going to continue to come into town, but it’s setting a tone and creating a reputation that if you come into our community with loud exhaust, there’s the potential that you’re going to get stopped,” Calvert said. “They may think twice about driving through town — driving down Crown Valley or going up Newport Coast, instead of coming through Laguna.

“It’s not just us that are feeling these impacts. It’s across the state, and the new law unfortunately doesn’t go into effect for another five years, so we’re just going to have to continue our sustained efforts. With the four motor officers out there, they’re going to be more visible, and that’s going to be a deterrent.”

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