Crime is in decline in California, according to statistics released this month by the attorney general. Most violent and property crimes decreased last year, continuing a trend spanning the past decade. In the Mother Lode, however, the data shows a relatively steady ebb and flow of most offenses, with some county-specific exceptions.

Statewide, rape was the only violent crime to see an increase last year. Between 2009 and 2018, the number of reported cases rose by 78%. In a recent Sacramento Bee article analyzing crime trends, experts pointed to the expansion of the legal definition of rape in 2013 as a likely cause for the dramatic shift.

In Calaveras County, where the population has hovered around 45,000 for the past decade, 27 rapes were reported last year, showing a 69% increase since 2009. Tuolumne County, with a population of 54,539 citizens, saw a 140% increase, with 60 incidents reported last year. In Amador County, population 39,383, rates have remained fairly stable, averaging eight reported incidents per year since 2009.

According to Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook, the increase in reported rape in many counties may be a positive sign of more victims choosing to press charges.

“With sex crimes, it’s often very common that victims aren’t able to come forward for years,” Yook told the Enterprise. “People are more willing to report, and I think that’s a good thing. People are believing that they will be heard and believed.”

Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio agreed that increased reports of older incidents may be “skewing statistics.”

Contrary to statewide trends, aggravated assault is also on the rise in Calaveras County, with 154 cases reported last year. Between 2015 and 2016, reported incidents increased by 47% and have remained relatively high in recent years. Rates in Tuolumne and Amador, however, have remained fairly steady, with those counties averaging 93 and 85 cases per year, respectively.

Although similar spikes in aggravated assault have occurred within the last 30 years in Calaveras County, both Yook and DiBasilio point to activities surrounding the commercial marijuana urgency ordinance of 2016 as a probable factor in more recent incidences of violent crime.

“During the 2015-2016 time period, as far as homicides and robberies and assaults, that’s absolutely what we saw. With what the county did, with the influx of marijuana, I’m not surprised to see that (increase) at all,” Yook said. “You’ve got this influx of population and a lot of different, new elements occurring. We knew that this was very likely, and then it happened.”

According to DiBasilio, whose department has raided 158 illegal grows since 2016, reports of robberies associated with marijuana activity have seen an uptick in recent years.

Nonetheless, the sheriff maintains that most crime in the county has dropped, including drug offenses.

“Overall, (Calaveras County) is still the safest place to live in California, as far as I’m concerned,” DiBasilio said.

Last year, the county saw two murders, maintaining its annual average within the past decade. Murder rates in Tuolumne and Amador counties have remained similarly low.

In Calaveras County, arson offenses have fallen to zero over the past four years, showing a staggering decline from the previous century, when 97 incidents were reported in 1986 alone.

The unusually sharp drop shown by the state-collected data prompted both DiBasilio and Yook to remind citizens to be mindful of potential inaccuracies and inconsistencies within statistics.

“So many varying factors go along with statistics. ... I don’t think they’re as accurate as a lot of people think they are, ” DiBasilio said. “(They) don’t have all the info. If we have something that occurs today and enter it as arson, down the road, we may deem it not an arson after an investigation. … We didn’t have an arson investigator in 1986, so where did they get those statistics?”

Yook added that the sample size in Calaveras County may be “too small” to produce reliable statistics for crimes like arson, which are typically reported to the Department of Justice by the Sheriff’s Office and the Angels Camp Police Department.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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