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Napa County’s 2016 arrest rates for whites and Latinos were proportionate to the valley’s demographic makeup, but a hard-to-explain trend shows African-Americans were arrested at much higher rates.

That’s according to a new report and interactive tool released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California. The data allows users to compare statewide and county arrest averages and trends based on race, gender and age from 1980 to 2016.

Local law enforcement officials say the county-level data is unfair because it compares the demographics of the county to the demographics of the people arrested in that county, regardless of where they come from.

“Crime does not respect county lines,” said Napa County Sheriff John Robertson.

The report shows Napa County’s arrest rate of African-Americans spiked in 2012, but has decreased since. In 2016 African-Americans constituted two percent of the county population, but made up 10 percent of arrests in the county.

That’s not to say that the estimated 3,000 black or African-American residents of Napa County make up the bulk of those arrests.

Just 48 of the 408 African-Americans arrested locally in 2016 lived in the county, according to Sheriff Robertson. That number also includes residents of the Napa State Hospital and may include transients, he said.

A fairer way to make such a comparison would be to compare the share of arrests to the demographics of the Bay Area or surrounding counties, said American Canyon Chief Oscar Ortiz.

“Everybody has arrests from people who don’t live in their county,” Ortiz said.

Census estimates from 2017 indicate that an average of 4.5 percent of Bay Area residents were black or African-American. The average is slightly higher, roughly five percent, in the counties immediately surrounding the Napa Valley.

Ortiz noted that American Canyon officers often encounter residents of Solano and Alameda counties. Those counties have the highest proportion of black or African-American residents in the Bay Area at 14 and 11 percent, respectively.

Stores in American Canyon and the Napa Premium Outlets are frequently targeted by shoplifters, Robertson said.

The Napa County arrest rate per 100,000 residents was the 37th highest of California’s 58 counties in 2016. Most common offenses for which people were arrested locally include failure to appear in court, driving under the influence, traffic offenses and drug law violations.

The highest arrest rates statewide tended to be in smaller, more rural counties. Napa’s neighbor, Lake County, topped the list with nearly 8,000 total arrests per 100,000 residents. Siskiyou and Shasta Counties followed.

Counties with the lowest arrest rates included Riverside, Santa Clara and San Francisco.

That could be because it’s easier for law enforcement agencies in less populous counties to work closely with residents, Robertson said. Agencies in smaller counties can respond to calls in person, and have more time and money to investigate crimes that would be considered minor in larger counties.

Local law enforcement officers have a good relationship with their community, Ortiz said. People feel comfortable enough to call officers and when things are reported in a timely manner, the bad guys get caught.

The arrest rate in Napa County dropped slightly from 2015 to 2016, according to a new report.

State arrest rate is falling

While the report has its limitations, it shows that racial disparities in California have generally narrowed, but African-Americans were arrested three times as often as whites in 2016. According to the report, women accounted for a quarter of arrests, up 10 percent from the 1980s.

Overall California’s arrest rate has dropped 58 percent since a peak in 1989, according to the report. The drop is mostly due to fewer misdemeanor arrests, particularly for traffic or alcohol-related offenses.

Arrested people tend to be male, younger and people of color, according to the report.

Still, there are fewer arrests of juveniles and young adults in recent years, the report found. Arrest rates of minors dropped by 84 percent from 1980 to 2016, and arrest rates of adults ages 18 to 24 dropped 63 percent in that time period.

Why is California seeing a declining arrest rate?

The report speculates it could be a number of reasons, including crime rates, money, jail capacity, law enforcement staffing, and criminal justice policies and reforms.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the war on drugs, increased mandatory minimum sentences, longer sentences for people with a prior conviction, and more money for law enforcement, prisons and crime prevention, according to the report. California also enacted the three strikes law in 1994, which meant two-time felons facing a third felony were sentenced to twice the time in prison for their third felony conviction.

California began to reform juvenile criminal justice policies in the 1990s and voters have passed reforms to revise the three strikes rule in 2012, and to reclassify certain drug or property felonies to misdemeanors in 2014, according to the report.

The latter voter initiative, known as Prop 47, has become notorious among law enforcement officers who say it encourages people to commit more crimes and discourages people with addictions from getting help. The report shows arrests in Napa County fell the next year.

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Public Safety Reporter

Courtney Teague is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook, or send her anonymous tip at: