Homicide down, but gains uneven in Bay Area crime

The number of homicides in the Bay Area’s biggest cities dropped significantly in 2013 when compared with the year before, mirroring a nationwide trend. But Oakland saw a jump in robberies and San Francisco suffered a big increase in property crimes, FBI statistics released Monday showed.

Across the nation, violent crime — murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — dropped 4.4 percent last year, while property crime went down 4.1 percent.

But the public safety picture in the Bay Area was uneven, as San Francisco saw a 22 percent increase in violent crime and a 24 percent increase in property crime. Eight of the Bay Area’s 15 largest cities recorded higher levels of violent crime in 2013 than the year before, according to the FBI.

The new data confirmed that with the exception of robbery, all types of violent crime decreased in Oakland in 2013 after an extended spike that raised wide concern. Property crimes such as burglaries and thefts were down, too. Still, the statistics showed that Oakland has the highest per capita violent crime rate of any big city in the state.

Violent and property crimes in 2013. Photo: Todd Trumbull

An analysis of the FBI crime data by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also released Monday, said that the 10 states that had the biggest decreases in imprisonment rates — including California — reduced their crime rates by an average of 13 percent between 2008 and 2013.

In contrast, the report said, 10 states with the largest jumps in imprisonment rates reduced their crime rates by an average of 8 percent.

Criminal justice experts cautioned that the figures do not paint a complete portrait of public safety trends in cities. Homicide rates can fluctuate for reasons that can be hard to quantify. For example, although violent crime in Berkeley increased by 15 percent from 2012 to 2013, the number of homicides dropped, from five to four.

“Year-to-year trends in crime have to be taken with a grain of salt,” said Barry Krisberg, a lecturer in residence at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Krisberg said crimes like robberies and burglaries were the better barometer of crime trends for the average citizen. “Homicide tends to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods, whereas burglaries, auto theft and, to some extent, robberies touch a broader part of the population,” he said.

Krisberg added that recent public opinion polls suggest that “the public is not very concerned about crime right now, whereas maybe 20 years ago it was the No. 1 issue.”

In San Jose, which like Oakland has laid off police officers in recent years because of budget problems, violent crime dipped 9 percent last year, and the number of homicides decreased from 45 in 2012 to 38 in 2013.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said he believes the city’s increase in property crime was tied to realignment, a policy instituted by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 in response to the California’s overcrowded prisons in which lower-level state inmates were shifted to county supervision.

“I think when realignment happened in California, we were ill-prepared in terms of knowing where we would see a bump in crime, particularly with cars and electronic devices being sort of the most popular targets of theft offenses,” Adachi said. “I think we need to shift some of our programming in addressing theft-related offenses.”

In the wake of a deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that has focused attention on police use of force, the FBI report released Monday said that fatal officer-involved shootings had gone up nationally for four years straight, with 461 “line of duty” killings in 2013.

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Libby Rainey contributed to this report.

Henry K. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: hlee@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @henryklee