Reports of violent crime increased in Costa Mesa during the first half of 2016 while Huntington Beach saw fewer violent crimes compared with the same period in 2015, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The statistics, released last week as part of the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, analyzed crime data for cities with populations of 100,000 or more. Therefore, cities such as Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Fountain Valley and Seal Beach were not included.
The numbers show that violent crime, including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, increased nationally by 5.3% in the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015.
Costa Mesa’s violent crime increased by nearly 6%, but Huntington Beach’s fell 4.5%, according to the data.
Costa Mesa had 199 violent crimes in the first half of 2016, compared with 188 a year earlier. Five more robberies, six more aggravated assaults and one more rape helped drive the increase, data show.
Costa Mesa, which has a population of 113,477, had 77 more burglaries, 69 more vehicle thefts and 11 more incidents of arson during the first half of 2016, though reports of larceny decreased by 51, according to the report.
The city had no homicides in the first six months of last year after having one in the same period of 2015.
The figures mark an improvement over the first half of 2015, when the FBI reported that violent crime in Costa Mesa rose by 47% compared with the same period in 2014.
At the time, the Police Department said law enforcement statewide had experienced a general increase in crimes, partly because more criminals were released as a result of prison realignment and California’s Proposition 47, an initiative passed in November 2014 that reclassified some drug and theft crimes as misdemeanors carrying lesser penalties.
“There are a variety of factors which contribute to a rise in the crime rate,” Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack said Tuesday. “That being said, I believe Proposition 47 has had the greatest effect.
“Regardless of the causation, we are truly concerned about the increase and have taken proactive steps to make a positive impact through continual strategic crime analysis programs, which will guide us in crime prevention.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said the increase in crime is why she, along with Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Genis and new Councilman John Stevens, believe improving police staffing and reducing crime is the City Council’s top priority.
In 2011, City Council members voted to cut staffing at the Police Department through attrition. Officials also delayed filling anticipated vacancies as some council members pushed to reduce pension benefits for new recruits.
However, in the past several years, the department has been pushing to refill its ranks. Police hires have moved forward, officials said, but vacancies have remained a nagging issue that some in the community have linked to the increase in crime.
“We have to turn this around,” Foley said. “We’ve all expressed to the chief that we want him to have an aggressive plan for recruitment and rebuilding our department. The only way to reduce crime in a meaningful way is to have proactive policing going on every day, 365 days a year.”
Police officials say they ramped up hiring efforts in recent years by expediting the testing process for recruits, increasing the number of staff members assigned to recruiting efforts and boosting advertising for applicants, among other measures.
Up the road in Huntington Beach, violent crimes totaled 170 in the first six months of 2016, compared with 178 a year earlier. Though reports of rape increased by three and aggravated assault was up by nine, robberies were down by 20, data show.
The city, which has a population of 203,233, saw 43 fewer burglaries, 194 fewer reports of larceny and seven fewer incidents of arson, according to the report.
Huntington Beach had no homicides during the first half of 2016 or 2015.
Crime in some other Orange County cities of similar size climbed in the first half of last year. Violent crime surged 25% in Irvine and 12% in Santa Ana, according to the report. Orange saw an 8% increase.
Garden Grove had a 6% decrease in violent crime and Anaheim a 1% decrease, the report said.