Los Angeles police officers began making fewer arrests in 2013. 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, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period.
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.
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.
It would be "naive" to think the national debate over policing hasn't affected the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. Nevertheless, he said, his deputies are not shying away from potentially dangerous situations.