- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The number of violent crimes jumped 10 percent across California last year, reversing several years of declines, the state’s attorney general reported Friday.

Homicides increased nearly 10 percent, while robberies and aggravated assaults were up more than 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a series of crime reports. Aggravated assaults with a firearm jumped 15.7 percent, while assaults on peace officers increased by 10 percent.

The number of reported rapes increased from 9,397 in 2014 to 12,793 last year, though the attorney general’s office said the legal definition has changed so the two numbers can’t be directly compared.

The number of property crimes increased more than 8 percent, led by double-digit increases in vehicle and other thefts. Burglaries dropped nearly 3 percent.

Harris, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate, did not comment on the reasons for the increases. But her office noted in a news release that violent and property crime rates remain below 2010 levels.

Preliminary FBI crime figures for the first half of 2015 also showed an increase in violent crime across many U.S. cities. Experts have had difficulty pinpointing a cause or if it is the start of an upward trend from historically low levels in recent years.

“Year-to-year changes always have to be taken with a grain of salt,” said University of California, Berkeley, criminologist Barry Krisberg, formerly president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Increases could be affected by surges in particular cities or regions, he said.

“Crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, have just been dropping precipitously for many years and this could be seen as a kind of slight regression from that,” Krisberg said. “The crime rate couldn’t go down forever and so you’d expect to see an adjustment at a certain point…. It should cause us to take a closer look at what’s going on and not assume some simplistic answer to it.”

Many factors could be to blame, from unemployment rates to changes in sentencing patterns to fewer police on the streets, he said, and it is difficult to isolate a particular one.

Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger said he blames the crime increase on California’s shift in late 2011 to keeping lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prisons.

“It confirms what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from law enforcement, reports from individual cities,” said Scheidegger, whose organization advocates for crime victims.

However, experts studying the state’s sweeping criminal justice realignment have yet to find a related increase in crime.

Last year:

- There were 1,861 homicides in California, or 4.8 for every 100,000 residents.

- That represents 164 more homicides than 2014.

- The rate is the same as in 2010 but up from 2014.

- Over the last decade, the homicide rate has ranged from a high of 6.9 homicides per 100,000 in 2006 to a low of 4.4 in 2014.

- Nearly 9 percent of the homicides were deemed to be justifiable last year.

- Of the 163 justifiable homicides, 130 were by police and the remaining 33 by citizens.

- More than 70 percent of homicides were committed with firearms last year, up more than 9 percent from 2014.

The news came the same day that Gov. Jerry Brown signed several laws increasing California’s already strict gun regulations. Voters will consider more gun restrictions on the November ballot.

Hate crimes increased 10.4 percent last year, with 837 reported statewide, Harris said in a separate report.

The increase was led by a nearly 50 percent jump in hate crimes involving a religious bias, from 127 in 2014 to 190 in 2015. There were 40 hate crimes involving Muslims last year, up from 18 in 2014, while those targeting Jews increased from 80 in 2014 to 97 last year.

The boost comes as presidential candidates debate the wisdom of restricting Muslim immigration into the United States.

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