SLO County homicide rate plummets, Santa Barbara County soars

August 29, 2022


San Luis Obispo County had 71% fewer murders in 2021 than in 2020. With just two murders in 2021, down from seven in 2020, SLO County has one of the lowest homicide rates in California.

Things didn’t go as well in Santa Barbara County, which recorded 125% more homicides in 2021 than in 2020. Santa Barbara County reported eight murders in 2020, with that number rising to 18 in 2021.

Over the past 10 years, SLO County has reported between two and seven murders per year, while Santa Barbara County has reported between six and 18 murders per year.

Both SLO County murders in 2021 occurred in the city of San Luis Obispo. In May, Detective Luca Benedetti was killed in the line of duty. In November, an Exeter man allegedly killed a 64-year-old homeless man.

Many killings in Santa Barbara County in 2021 were gang-related. In February, two gang members shot and killed two 19-year-old college students who were trying to sell marijuana in Goleta. In May, two people were murdered in Santa Maria in three days, although investigators said one of the shootings was not gang-related.

On August 25, California Attorney General Rob Bonta released the state’s annual 2021 Homicide Report. Key findings include:

The total number of reported homicides in the state increased 7.2% year over year, from 2,202 in 2020 to 2,361 in 2021, remaining significantly below California’s all-time high of 4,095 homicides in 1993.

In 2021, 75% of all homicides involved a firearm.

Kern County had the highest rate with 13.7 murders per 100,000 population, followed by Merced County at 9.5 and Tulare County at 8.8. With zero homicides, Napa and Shasta counties reported the lowest rates, followed by Marin County with 0.4 and San Luis Obispo County with 0.7.

Santa Barbara County reported 4.1 murders per 100,000 population.

More than 35% of female murder victims were killed by a spouse, parent or child, compared to 6.4% of male murder victims.

Last year, five peace officers were murdered in the line of duty in California, compared to two officers killed in 2020.

When the circumstances leading to the murder are known: 36.3% were the result of a specified argument; 26.6% were linked to gangs; 7% occurred in conjunction with the commission of rape, theft or burglary; and 6.3% were related to domestic violence.

In 2021, 660 civilians used a firearm or force causing serious bodily injury or death. Of these: 50.6% were Hispanic, 25.5% were white, and 16.7% were black.

There have been 119 homicides deemed justifiable in 2021. Of the 77 committed by a peace officer: 51.9% of those who died were Hispanic, 26% were white, 18.2% were black, and 3.9% were listed as other.

Of the 42 justifiable homicides committed by a private citizen: 42.9% of those who died were black, 28.6% were Hispanic, 19% were white, and 9.5% were listed as other.