SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego is often touted as one of the safest cities in the United States. However, violent crime is up all around the county according to the latest crime reports.
News 8 sat down with San Diego District Attorney, Summer Stephan to find out what was behind the rise.
Stephan says she is very concerned about the violent crime rates going up. Those rates include the record rate of homicides the county has seen recently. She says San Diego County has not seen these kinds of homicide numbers in 20 years. Stephan added that the problems are a byproduct of many of the changes that went into place during COVID regarding the jail population.
For example, San Diego County along with many other counties are seeing the impact of zero bail which was launched at the beginning of the pandemic to keep jail populations lower. Stephan says 65 percent of offenders who are released on zero bail end up reoffending. “This is a high number of people committing crimes, and there's a certain percentage that are re-arrested, three, four, five, even up to ten times,” said Stephan.
The full transcript of Eric’s interview with Summer Stephan can be seen below.
What has your office seen when it comes to the stats? And are you concerned at all?
I am very concerned that we are seeing the violent crime data go up and crime data go up including DUI homicides that have gone up to a record that we haven't seen in 20 years. So in all areas, I am very, very concerned. In San Diego safety is a top priority to make sure that our children and seniors, businesses and people are safe. We are starting to see the pulling of the seams that is happening as a byproduct of a lot of things that went into place during COVID.
Tell us a little bit about the changes to how bail is handled in San Diego County. I know when the pandemic happened to deal with the jail populations and COVID, there was zero bail for certain level offenders. Then a new bail schedule was created. I mean, how is that impacting things?
Well, we are definitely seeing the impact of it. So first, we had zero bail that included some very serious offenses like human trafficking and elder abuse that came from the Supreme Court.
Initially, as a reaction to COVID, we actually went to court and we won a battle in court at the Fourth District Court of Appeal that allows a judge in special circumstances to not apply zero bail, then our county instituted on lower level not serious violent offenses, but lower-level offenses as zero bail. So not that expensive list that we first got from the Supreme Court. However, the numbers I'm tracking are still very disturbing. As an example, it looks like close to 65 percent, where we arrested after being released on zero bail, and of those that were re-arrested. Sixty-five percent were also re-arrested on a felony crime, not a smaller misdemeanor crime. So definitely there is a connection in that this is a high number of folks that are committing crimes, and then there is a certain percentage that are re-arrested and cycled through on zero bail, you know, three, four, five and even up to ten times. So we are seeing that tension and that pressure. This has to be balanced because public safety is imperative. We shouldn't be now at a point in time where we can return to what is a very just and fair system. We have a law of People vs. Humphreys that says that people cannot be held just because they can’t pay bail, but the judge gets to look at everything, their criminal record their appearance, record the threat to the community. And if they shouldn't be released, then bail is set and they're not released.
What actions have you taken on the state level? Have you brought your frustrations to the state?
Oh, definitely. You know, I'm part of the lawsuit that stopped for now, the release of 70,000 more violent offenders into our streets. San Diego County being the second largest, we expected a sizable portion of them to be released. Fortunately, we were able to stop that. We also fought the zero bail that was expansive that included the felony crimes of human trafficking and elder abuse. We didn't think that those crimes should get on zero bail. We were able to get the court to agree that a judge gets to weigh in the battle continues. We need to be able to balance the safety and the health of the jail and keeping the numbers at a right amount working with the sheriff and the courts. But it seems to be out of balance now