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Violent crime rates up in Costa Mesa

The number of violent crimes in Costa Mesa increased by almost 10% last year on top of a boost in property crimes that was common among large Orange County cities, according to statistics the FBI released this week.

More rapes and aggravated assaults in 2012 pushed Costa Mesa's violent crime rate up by 9.9% from 2011, and an across-the-board spike in property crimes pushed that category up by 15% according to the report, which used data reported by local police departments.

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The annual report published Monday compared crime statistics from 2012 and 2011 in cities with populations over 100,000.

Most Orange County cities of that size had a similar increase of property crimes, but Costa Mesa was one of the few that experienced more violent crime as well, according to the report.

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Murders and robberies stayed flat, but 32 rapes in 2012 compared to 30 in 2011 and 135 aggravated assaults compared to 114 caused the uptick.

Costa Mesa police spokesman Lt. Greg Scott said he couldn't give a definitive reason for the increases but said California's prisoner realignment could be a factor.

The program shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails in an effort to ease overcrowding.

"There are studies currently being conducted throughout the county and state attempting to better assess the possible correlation between realignment and recent crime trends," Scott said in a prepared statement. "The general belief at this time, however, is that there is a correlation."

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Costa Mesa police are also in the middle of hiring 10 full-time and 10 reserve police officers. Until late last year, the department hadn't added to its ranks since 2008 because of budget constraints.

Scott said the new staff will be appreciated but couldn't say if the hiring freeze had any effect on crime rates.

"To give a definitive answer on that would be a be little bit speculative," he said.

The FBI's report didn't include Newport Beach, with a population of about 87,000, but the city's police department publishes its own crime statistics.

Violent crimes there decreased slightly overall in 2012 with six fewer aggravated assaults but four more rapes compared to the previous year, according to the department's numbers.

The city also bucked the trend of increased property crimes with a 3% decrease, mostly coming from a reduction in thefts with 1,630 in 2012 compared to 1,724 in 2011.

"I can tell you that we had an exceptional year in 2012 with exceptional crime rates," Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

This year may not match those numbers, but "We haven't seen a hugely significant increase in 2013 so far," she said.

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Auto thefts were one of a few crimes that didn't follow Newport's downward trend, increasing 18% from 90 to 106.

Costa Mesa's auto thefts spiked by even more: 35%.

Every other category of property crime the FBI's report tracked also increased in the city,

Burglaries rose from 524 to 668 — 27%. And thefts rose from 2,743 to 3,050 — 11%.

Costa Mesa police have started a crime-mapping program that helps officers respond proactively, Scott said.

"We've also strengthened our partnerships with Orange County probation and the state parol office," he added. "We work with an on-site Orange County probation officer locally once a week to augment oversight of probationers in the local area."

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