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Grim numbers in the Golden State

Rocklin, Placer law enforcement sees spiking crime tied to ‘experiments’

California experiences major rise in crime stats for 2015
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Law enforcement leaders in Placer County are taking a hard look at new data suggesting California suffered a herculean jump in crime rates in 2015. Even more concerning to local police chiefs and the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, the same report indicates neighboring Sacramento had the highest year-to-year increase in crime of any major city in the nation.

From South Placer to Auburn, law enforcement administrators are trying to determine what role California’s recent criminal justice experiments, Realignment and Prop. 47, may be playing in a dramatic growth in victimization that’s not matched in other states.  

In mid-February, the Public Policy Institute of California published an analysis about the FBI’s preliminary crime data for 2015. The PPIC is a non-political, nonpartisan research group, and its latest findings came from its top experts on crime patterns and correctional issues in California, Dr. Magnus Loftstrom and Brandon Martin. In their analysis, Loftstrom and Martin pointed out that the FBI’s early numbers – covering the first six months of last year – suggest property crime in California more than doubled in 2015 with a 116-percent increase, while property crime in states with similar populations decreased by more than 29 percent in the same period.

Violent crime has also been on the rise in California.

Lofstrom has been studying California’s major experiment in criminal justice policy, AB 109, or Realignment, since it went into effect at the start of 2012. Realignment put thousands of convicted offenders into county jails rather than state prisons – often for much shorter periods – and channeled other offenders to electronic monitoring systems rather than housing them in physical custody. In the 16 counties that have federally mandated caps on their jail populations, including Placer, Realignment has pressured sheriff’s departments to engage in numerous early releases, as well as ordered releases without bail. Tracking crime data from states similar to California has been an important factor for Loftstrom when trying to determine if increases or decreases in crime can be correlated with Realignment. In a presentation in June 2013, Lofstrom announced he was beginning to identify rising crime patterns in California, though he could only link some property crimes – specifically auto theft – to Realignment, since other states without AB 109 had also seen boosts in violent crime.

In November 2014, one year after a report by the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy showed 80 percent of felonies in Sacramento the previous year were committed under the influence of drugs, California voters passed Prop. 47, lowering most drug offenses – including possession of methamphetamine, heroin and opiates – to simple misdemeanors. Now regional law enforcement officials are worried about their ability to legally corral serial offenders driven by their methamphetamine or heroin addictions, especially in light of the fact that Sacramento and Placer’s county jails have little space to house suspects arrested on misdemeanors.

Last week, the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Los Angeles County issued an Op Ed asserting that the new FBI numbers are proof that Realignment and Prop. 47 are “failures” for public safety.

While local groups like Placer People of Faith Together continue to champion Realignment and Prop. 47 as ways of addressing the underlying social issues that cause crime, a number of local police chiefs and prosecutors said this week the FBI numbers speak for themselves and that the community should be aware of what’s really happening on the streets.

“You cannot accurately view the impact of Prop. 47 without looking at the impact of Realignment,” said Placer County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Wilson. “Realignment has left counties with little jail space for those who commit misdemeanors. Now that we have made all drug possession offenses, and all thefts under $950, misdemeanors, those defendants no longer fear being incarcerated or fear being sent to prison. They can continue to commit these crimes (knowing), at worst, they can expect a minimal county jail sentence served in programs such as work project, community service or, most likely, an electronic ankle monitor with home confinement.”

Wilson added, “Another consequence of Prop.  47 making a drug possession a misdemeanor is that defendants charged have no incentive to participate in our drug treatment programs. The number of defendants in drug court has plummeted. A defendant who pleads guilty and is given the choice of either going to our drug court, (which involves) enrolling in a treatment  program and appearing in court every month to show proof of their progress, or (the choice of) being placed on unsupervised  probation and wearing an ankle monitor for 30 days, will choose the latter every time … . Prop. 47 has completely destroyed our ability to rehabilitate our local drug offenders.” 

Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn agrees the FBI numbers indicate that many of the good intentions behind Realignment and Prop. 47 haven’t materialized into a reality his officers are seeing on their patrols.

“I’m a strong believer in finding better strategies to get people off drugs and getting as many people clean as we can, because no police officer enjoys arresting the same person over and over,” Hahn said. “And I can’t think of one serial burglar we’ve arrested in our city who didn’t have narcotics on them at the time. I’ve said all along that the aims behind these laws are important, but when our officers are finding people carrying meth, and all they can really do is give them a ticket, or arrest them on misdemeanor, leading to them being right back on the streets to break into a person’s house, then these numbers don’t surprise me at all.”

Sitting on the border of a city that appears to have just suffered the highest crime increase in the United States is another concern for Hahn. Prior to Prop. 47 passing, internal data from the Roseville Police Department showed that roughly 50 percent of all people arrested in the city were not actually from Roseville. A large number were from Sacramento County.

“The bottom line is our department can’t control laws like AB 109 and Prop. 47 being passed, and our officers have to go out there and do the best job they can for the residents,” Hahn acknowledged. “But these laws are huge challenges for law enforcement across California, and we’re no exception.”

Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence says he’s recently seen firsthand that when his officers are hindered from helping a neighborhood by Realignment and Prop. 47, the situation can escalate into a violent and potentially deadly one.

Case in point: In November 2014, Rocklin police officers caught Carter Massey in the act of burglarizing an automobile. Massey had recently been arrested for possession of methamphetamine, but due to Prop. 47 was quickly out of custody. Officers booked Massey into Placer County Jail on new theft charges, though he was released from the crowded facility just three days later. Before the week was out, Massey committed an armed robbery in Rocklin with a gun.

“The California criminal justice system experienced a monumental overhaul by implementation of prison Realignment and Prop. 47,” Lawrence noted this week, partly attributing Rocklin’s 20 percent growth in property crime and 35-percent growth in violent crime to those laws. Similar to Hahn, Lawrence stressed that the city he oversees is still statistically safer than many areas of California.  

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at standerson1@live.com. Follow him on Twitter at STA_reporter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/STAndersonJournalist