As your elected District Attorney, it is my obligation to ensure all citizens are fully informed on critical issues impacting public safety.
We are witnessing the most sweeping changes to our criminal justice system in California history, commencing in 2011 with the enactment of the Realignment Act (AB109) and the November 2014 passage of Proposition 47. As a result of these changes, those who break our laws now find unprecedented leniency and often seem to have the upper hand in our criminal justice system.
With AB109, many criminals who once served time in state prison are now sentenced to already overcrowded county jails. Overcrowding forces our Sheriff to release “the best of the worst,” with criminals paying little or no price for their crimes. Under Prop. 47, numerous felony offenses became misdemeanors. These newly minted misdemeanors include possession of dangerous drugs: heroin, cocaine and the date-rape drugs Rohypnol and Ketamine; and all thefts of less than $950, including handguns.
What does this mean in real terms? Criminals can repeatedly victimize citizens and local businesses, possess stolen firearms and dangerous drugs, and never see a jail cell. Instead, they receive the equivalent of a traffic ticket — even when they commit the same crime again and again.
Without the ability to punish offenders, criminals are incentivized to repeatedly victimize our communities, rendering our best rehabilitative efforts futile.
Today, our drug courts are disappearing as more criminals, knowing they will be released from jail, refuse to enter comprehensive drug treatment and mental health programs.
With inadequate penalties, common sense tells us crime will increase. Already, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reports increases of 20 percent in robberies and 16 percent in aggravated assaults countywide in the first quarter of 2015 for unincorporated areas and contract cities compared to first quarter 2014.
In desert cities with police departments, the news is also grim for the first six months of 2015 over the same period in 2014.
Desert Hot Springs saw a 68 percent increase in robberies and an 85 percent increase in vehicle thefts while Cathedral City experienced increases of 27 percent in violent crime, 14 percent in property crime, and 16 percent overall.
In Palm Springs, while violent crime is down 16 percent, property crime increased by 15 percent and overall crime by 12 percent while Indio had an increase of 22 percent in aggravated assaults and 18 percent in violent crime.
To fight this crime wave, we have created an Organized Crime Unit to partner with local, state and federal agencies to combat human trafficking, child pornography, drug trafficking, and gang crimes. Our innovative Crime Prevention Unit now targets at-risk youth to prevent criminality and reduce recidivism by implementing community-based outreach strategies combined with traditional crime-reduction methods. But these actions alone won’t suffice.
In partnership with state and local elected officials, I am working to fix the most dangerous provisions of Prop. 47. I urge you to contact your elected representatives in support of SB333/AB46 (felony classification for date-rape drugs), AB150 (felony classification for firearm theft), and AB390 (DNA collection for Prop. 47 crimes).
I also urge you to contact your local city and county representatives to voice your support for public safety. This is no time to cut police and prosecutors.
Riverside County is growing. We are the 10th largest county in the nation with more growth on the horizon. If current trends continue, business owners and families will instead choose to invest their money and raise their children elsewhere. The future is ours to decide. But to succeed, we must meet the crime problem head on.
By working together, we will make Riverside County a better and safer place to live, work, and raise our families.