- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Violent and property crimes dropped significantly across California last year, the state attorney general said.

The violent crime rate per 100,000 residents decreased to its lowest level since 1967, the state Department of Justice said in a new report posted on its website.

Violent crimes were down 6.5 percent from 2012, while property crimes were down nearly 4 percent over the same period.

The crime rate has been under closer scrutiny since a criminal justice reform pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown took effect three years ago.

Under the realignment, lower-level criminals are sentenced to county jails instead of state prisons.

Critics have said the resulting jail overcrowding is forcing many counties to release dangerous felons early.

The drop in property crimes includes a nearly 3 percent drop in auto thefts, which had jumped nearly 14 percent in 2012.

An independent study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California in December blamed the previous increase in auto thefts in part on the realignment that began in October 2011.

Property crime had increased nearly 7 percent in the first year of the criminal justice changes, while violent crime was up nearly 3 percent that year before declining in 2013.

“Any drop in crime is good news, of course,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has been critical of the state’s criminal justice changes.

He noted that property crime is still somewhat above what it was before realignment, and said it is unclear how much of the drop is the result of state policies and how much reflects national trends.

“A couple years’ data points don’t give us definitive answers,” Scheidegger said.

Linda Penner, chairwoman of the Board of State and Community Corrections and Brown’s public safety liaison, also said the drop is good news but cautioned that it is too soon to attribute the decrease to any one factor.

A separate California Department of Justice report found that the number of hate crimes dropped more than 7 percent last year.

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