by Jeff McDonald, North County Times
‘Nearly 500 avoid re-incarceration, prison department calls it ‘a small number’
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Hundreds of sex offenders released on parole have been permitted to remain free even though they were arrested for new crimes over the past year, state prison officials say.
Terri McDonald, undersecretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that more than 4,000 sex offenders were sent back to jail after committing new crimes since Oct. 1, 2011, when the state launched a program to shift tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails.
But 481 sex offenders were arrested 862 times over the same period, and all of them avoided lockup, she said.
“What we have is a small number of cases and a small number of counties at a small number of times where the jail capacity is such that some offenders are not returned to custody,” McDonald said. “There have been challenges associated with this.”
The information came to light after The Watchdog requested details about how prison officials are managing realignment, the 2011 legislation that steered tens of thousands of state inmates to county jails.
Monitoring sexual predators is a particularly sensitive topic in San Diego County because registered sex offender John Gardner violated parole repeatedly without being sent back to prison and then killed two North County teenagers.
Gardner pleaded guilty in 2010 to murdering Amber Dubois and Chelsea King and is now serving life in prison.
It is unclear how many of the convicts committed fresh offenses in San Diego County. The corrections department would not say, and county officials say most parolees under their watch who break new laws are shipped back to jail.
Statewide, the failure to lock up nearly 500 rapists, child molesters and other convicts has angered rank-and-file parole agents and raised questions about California’s year-old experiment in “realignment,” as the program is known.
One parole agent has complained to the California State Auditor anonymously, saying he speaks for others and demanding an investigation of the state’s handling of sex offenders. He claims at least 150 of them have cut off their electronic monitoring bracelets, loiter near parks or schools or live with children in violation of parole conditions because they know there will be no consequences.
“One recently in Fresno was arrested and released six times before he was finally rearrested for annoying/molesting a child,” the agent wrote. “We can no longer remain silent.”
A spokeswoman for State Auditor Elaine Howle said the office does not comment on complaints or open investigations.
Agents are reluctant to speak publicly because they fear they will be retaliated against by supervisors. Retired agents are not so shy about questioning the program.
“Committed, dedicated departmental employees are deeply wounded by their inability to work to enhance public safety,” longtime agent Robert Walsh said. Prison officials “are moving to dump huge numbers of parolees out of the system in order to save the cost of supervising them, regardless of the public-safety impact.”
Realignment, the most significant change in state corrections policy in a generation, was prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that directed the 33-prison system to lower its population by 33,000.
The law requires parolees who violate terms of their release to serve revocation time in county jail.
It also calls for nonviolent, nonserious and non-high-risk offenders to serve time in jails and creates a new category of post-release convicts who serve county time based on their most recent convictions.
Corrections officials say they understand the concerns of many of their parole agents, but insist they are working with county officials to make sure dangerous felons are properly supervised outside prison.
“We’re triaging cases of parolees that are coming in and working with sheriffs to best utilize beds,” McDonald said.
In recent months, Fresno and Merced counties stopped accepting many parolees recommended for return to custody because there is no room.
“We don’t have the bed space to house them because we have our own violent offenders to house,” Merced sheriff’s spokesman Tom MacKenzie told the Merced Sun-Star last month.
San Diego County appears to be weathering the challenges better, even though it received 2,567 offenders in the first 10 months of the program rather than the 2,000 convicts the state projected over the first year.
The Sheriff’s Department is expanding one of its jails and refurbishing others to make room. It also must provide new space for parole hearings that now take place in local facilities.
“We were fortunate that when we started this process we had anywhere from 800 to 1,000 empty beds,” said Cmdr. Will Brown, who oversees county lockups. “It gave us a cushion to absorb this influx of bodies that are staying with us longer.”
According to the San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning agency, the county jail population rose 9.5 percent between 2011 and 2012.
By mid-2012, eight months into realignment, the inmate population was 5,073 and capacity was listed at 112 percent. At the end of 2010, capacity had been at 103 percent.
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By Kurtis Alexander
Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
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The overhaul of California’s criminal justice system last year was billed as a way to get more felons into treatment and out of the vicious cycle of crime, prison and more crime.
So far, this has hardly been the case.
Most offenders who qualify for rehab services instead of incarceration under the state’s new realignment policy are still being sentenced to time behind bars, reports show. Only a fraction are ordered to programs that include mandatory drug counseling or job training.
Additionally, the majority of these offenders, because of the way the new policy works, don’t get supervision after their release from custody. This supervision was common before the realignment began.
These shortfalls are adding to concern that the restructured criminal justice system, nearly a year after its October start, may not live up to promises of rehabilitating criminals.
“Inmates are going to be coming out of custody unprepared, and they’re going to be more likely to reoffend,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. “This defeats the whole purpose of realignment.”
The realignment shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to counties. (Violent offenders still go to state prison.) Gov. Jerry Brown saw it as a way to relieve the state’s overcrowded prison system and, on this front, it’s been a success. The prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.
Counties, it was expected, would do a better job of managing low-level criminals than the state, by offering treatment services tailored to local needs.
During the first six months of realignment, about 72 percent of the nearly 15,000 statewide offenders newly sentenced to counties instead of the state were given straight jail time, according to a recent report by the Chief Probation Officers of California.
That happens despite the fact that realignment allows judges to sentence low-level felons to terms in local probation programs. County probation departments are where the treatment services are run.
“I think judges are still stuck in the old mind-set where they say, ‘Hey, this guy deserves a harsher sentence,’ ” said Allen Hopper, who has studied the realignment and works as criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Six percent of the state’s low-level offenders were sentenced to probation programs during the first six months of realignment, while 21 percent were sentenced to a combination of jail and probation, according to the recent report.
In addition, offenders serving their entire terms in county jails also don’t get supervision upon release. Had those inmates gone to state prison, as they would have before the realignment, many would have been monitored and assisted through state parole offices. But parole is no longer an option for these offenders.
“We can’t change that person’s behavior who is walking out of jail without having some sort of jurisdiction putting together plans to help them,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California.
Pank and her organization are encouraging judges to sentence more low-level offenders to probation. That way, she said, they’re likely to get treatment as well as follow-up supervision once they’re on their own.
Many judges say it’s not that simple. Under the new policy, when a judge sentences an offender to a probation program, it eats up part of the total sentence, meaning less jail time. And that’s not necessarily what is warranted, they say.
“This is just part of the formula,” said Fresno Superior Court Judge Jon Conklin. “If a judge wants to give that person some supervision or services, they have to reduce the amount of custodial time that they would give.
“This is not our decision,” he added. “This is the Legislature reacting.”
The problem is especially acute in the San Joaquin Valley, where counties are handling more felons than had been expected under the prison realignment, according to the probation officers group.
The 12 counties between Kern County and San Joaquin County have been managing 8 percent more probationers, on average, than what the state projected they would under the realignment, the group says. Fresno County, for example, is supervising more than 1,100 additional offenders in its Probation Department, say county officials. The state had estimated less than 700 at this point.
By contrast, counties in the Bay Area and the Sacramento area have averaged 5 percent fewer offenders than what the state projected, according to the report.
In Fresno County, nearly 30 percent of offenders were sentenced to a probation program or a combination of probation and jail – instead of straight jail time – according to the recent report. That’s slightly above the state average of nearly 28 percent. But the percentages vary significantly from county to county, with some counties, such as Contra Costa, above 80 percent and others, such as Kern, closer to 10 percent.
Conklin called Fresno County’s numbers a good start. He said he expects the percentage of offenders going into probation to increase, not just because judges will see more benefit in probation programs but because the higher cost of locking people up may become too burdensome.
State officials overseeing the realignment said they are not in a position to comment on how judges are doing with the sentencing. They said it is a matter for each county to work out.
But California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said that the new policy encourages counties to make use of alternatives to jail.
In Fresno County, the Probation Department, like other probation programs across the state, has begun to beef up its alternative services, from drug rehab to vocational assistance to daily check-in centers.
“We would like to get a shot at these offenders and get them into a program,” said Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner. “We feel strongly that a period of intervention, some sort of program, is meaningful.”
Penner noted that the policy of realignment is not even a year old, and she’s optimistic that its effectiveness will improve with time.
“It’s still pretty early,” she said. “As programs strengthen and more alternatives are out there, I expect judges are going to have a higher comfort level and we’ll see more people in programs.”
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Posted: 07/02/2012 06:12:01 PM PDT
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Charles Edwards, accused of killing Shannon Collins, appears in court in May. The state Department of Corrections has acknowledged that a clerical error led to Edwards release from parole supervision. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file )
SANTA CRUZ – The state’s top corrections official recently informed local prosecutors and a slain woman’s family that a clerical error by his agency prematurely ended parole supervision of a man accused in the killing.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said Monday that Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate traveled to Santa Cruz about two weeks ago to notify him, as well as members of the Santa Cruz Police Department and Shannon Collins’ family, about the mistake.
“It’s a crushing, unspeakable tragedy for Shannon’s family and for our community,” Lee said. “It’s hard to imagine a typo costing someone their life.”
Charles Anthony Edwards III, 43, is accused of stabbing Collins to
death May 7 as the 38-year-old downtown store owner walked on Broadway to a hair appointment. The two didn’t know each other and the attack is believed to have been random, according to prosecutors.Edwards, who has a lengthy criminal rap sheet that began at age 13, was discharged from state parole supervision in December. While participating in a state mental health program as part of parole, he was put on the street after the state failed to conduct a required review.
“He basically said they were ultimately responsible,” Lee said of Cate.
Violet Smith of Boulder Creek, a good friend of Collins for years, said her grief was deepened by learning Edwards should not have been out.
“That is just horrible,” Smith said. “The complete randomness of everything that had to happen is completely unbelievable. I’m grieving, still just trying to figure it out. But I know that she would never want anyone to be angry. That just wasn’t in her being.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The error, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, happened when a corrections employee set the wrong date for a mandatory hearing.
“If the state misses (an individual’s) review period for any reason, we lose the ability by law to retain that person on parole,” said Terri McDonald, undersecretary of the Department of Corrections. “There are very strict guidelines.”
McDonald said the agency has a program built in to its computer system that alerts officials to the proper time for a parolee’s one year-review period.
Edwards was placed on parole in November 2010 after being handed down an 8-year prison sentence in Los Angeles County for resisting an officer with threats or violence. As such, his review date would have been in November 2011.
However, for reasons McDonald said are still under investigation, someone entered the wrong date into the computer system, listing Edwards’ review period as April 2012.
“In January, when we went into the system to review his case, we realized the error and we realized he had to be discharged,” McDonald said.
Parole officials researched possibilities for legally maintaining his parole, but found none, McDonald said. Edwards, who was at Atascadero State Hospital, was therefore removed in January.
The Times reported that Edwards’ brother, a federal employee who asked not be named for fear of being stigmatized at work, said Edwards had spent two brief stints in a state-run outpatient program before returning to the hospital at his own request.
“He was scared,” the brother said. “He said he wasn’t ready.”
At some point after being released, Edwards, a San Francisco native, showed up in Santa Cruz, where he spent a few nights at the Homeless Services Center before the killing. Employees there said he had been cooperative and docile, and expressed an interest in connecting with a Christian community.
McDonald said such errors by the state corrections system are rare, “but even a rare event is something we’d sought a legislative change for.”
That change, McDonald said, is coming in the form of a new bill, passed last week by the Legislature. Among other provisions, the bill eliminates the automatic discharge in favor of individuals being retained on parole unless their parole agent acted to discharge them.
The change won’t affect those currently on parole, though it will apply to those sentenced after its passage, McDonald said.
“No matter how well-trained and hard-working our employees are, an individual can make an error,” she said.
Lee acknowledged the corrections department’s willingness to take responsibility, but said “nothing anyone can ever say can ever lessen the tremendous pain.”
Collins’ husband, Ken Vinson, declined to comment about the error Monday.
“I am still deeply grieving the loss of Shannon, and that’s all I’m really thinking about these days,” he said in an email to the Sentinel.
Edwards remains in County Jail, where he is being housed in a special unit for persons with mental health issues. He’s pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and related allegations and is due back in court Aug. 13 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.
His attorney, public defender Anthony Robinson, was not available for comment Monday.
Collins’ death occurred even as county and city leaders were considering increasing resources for a mental health outreach program targeting downtown. Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment, or “MOST” program, which pairs outreach workers with police to perform crisis intervention and case management for clients, will see its staffing nearly doubled starting this month.
County Supervisor Neal Coonerty sought to expand the program after the Legislature last year passed Assembly Bill 109, which redirects many nonviolent offenders away from the overburdened prison system and in to county jails or diversion programs.
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June 15, 2012
Thirty-six years ago, three men kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren for ransom before entombing them in a San Joaquin Valley rock quarry.
The 1976 crime has become part of California lore — and many of those in the small town of Chowchilla, where it happened, thought those responsible would stay behind bars for life. But later this month, one of the three kidnappers will be a free man.
A spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Richard Schoenfeld’s release became necessary after the state Supreme Court decided not to intercede in a lower court’s decision to release Schoenfeld. The state parole board had initially hoped to keep him behind bars at least until 2021, but the appellate court deemed the board’s formula of two years for every victim unfair.
Schoenfeld, the youngest of the three kidnappers, went to prison at age 22. He, his brother and another young man — all from wealthy families — kidnapped a school bus carrying 26 schoolchildren and their driver and buried them in the largest kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history.
The kidnappers made each victim climb down a ladder into a buried moving van equipped with two air tubes. Along one wall were dirty mattresses and containers of water. The men then poured dirt over the van.
All of the victims survived despite about 16 hours underground, but word in recent years that Schoenfeld might be granted parole disturbed many in Chowchilla.
For security reasons, authorities declined to say when or where Schoenfeld, 58, would be released, other than that it would be this month. He has been serving his time at a state prison in San Luis Obispo, along with his two accomplices.
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Los Angles Downtown News
by Ryan Vaillancourt | Posted: Friday, November 4, 2011 3:52 pm
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – In September 2006, city officials launched the Safer Cities Initiative, a plan to crack down on petty crime in Skid Row. The bolstered police presence led to a plunge in criminal activity and steep reductions in the number of people sleeping and dying on the streets.
Five years later, the progress has eroded. There are more parolees on the street. Crime is edging back up. Homelessness is again on the rise.
Some local officials fear the situation may soon get worse, as a new prison reform law is poised to send more felons to the area.
The reason for the fear is Assembly Bill 109, the plan to reduce overcrowding in California prisons largely by shifting how the state deals with drug offenders, who comprise 41% of the inmate population. The measure that went into effect Oct. 1 sends certain non-violent felons to county jail, where early release guidelines dictate that they’ll do less time behind bars than they would have in state prison. It also shifts post-release supervision duties from the state parole system to the County Probation Department.
Upon release, those offenders will be steered toward substance abuse programs and other rehabilitative services – the kind found in Skid Row.
Last year, 47,000 inmates served 90 days or less in state prison, most of them on a parole violation. The education, addiction and other supportive services provided in state prison don’t start until after 90 days, so those inmates had little chance at meaningful rehabilitation.
“The fact is, prison does not do well with these short-term offenders,” said Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “We have to change the way we do business.”
If the so-called realignment plan works, officials say, more people will access rehab services, break their habits and ultimately reduce the state’s 67.5% recidivism rate. State lawmakers, who were ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce overcrowding, say the plan will translate to 33,000 fewer prisoners by 2013.
The question on the mind of stakeholders in Downtown is, what if it doesn’t work? Service providers and police officials expect that released offenders will flock to Skid Row, and although some will seek treatment, others will look for drugs.
Officials point out that AB 109 applies only to non-violent, non-sex and non-serious offenders – known as non-non-nons, or N3s. However, the designation only considers the person’s most recent conviction. That means repeat lawbreakers, including violent criminals and some convicted of sex crimes, will still qualify for more lenient supervision.
The law relies on county agencies and service providers to do a better job than the state has done at rehabilitating chronic offenders. Funding for those groups, however, is tenuous, as the state transferred $33.7 million to Los Angeles County to cover costs associated with increased workloads for the Sheriff, Probation, Mental Health and other departments. The funds are only guaranteed for the current fiscal year.
“We have concerns about the permanence of the funding and also the adequacy of the funding,” said Reaver Bingham, deputy chief of the Probation Department.
Contrary to widespread fears, AB 109 does not call for or allow a mass early release, Cate said. However, there is a key change in how they are released: The N3s who get out early will no longer be subject to the supervision of the state parole system. Instead, they are released to the county Probation Department, which has more lenient standards.
Probation’s harshest penalty for violators is flash incarceration – a 10-day stint in county jail. Skeptics of the realignment plan fear that’s little incentive to stay clean for addicts and other chronic lawbreakers.
While realignment does not trigger an earlier release for current state prisoners, it will result in shorter prison stints for future N3s. Historically, state prison housed only felons sentenced to a year or more. County jail was for misdemeanor offenders and others serving less than a year.
Now, N3s will do their time in county jail, even if their sentence exceeds a year. This is important because, whereas people in state prison generally serve 50% of their sentence, low-level offenders in county jail often get released on probation after doing only 20% of their time, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca.
Gov. Jerry Brown and other champions of prison reform have likened realignment to a paradigm shift away from hard-on-crime tactics and toward a system considered to be smart on crime. In actuality, it’s a shift born out of necessity, said Baca, who joined Cate on a recent panel discussion on realignment organized by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and Skid Row advocacy group Issues and Solutions.
“It’s clear to me if this trending continues that California is going to have to come to grips with the reality of where’s the best place to deal with drug addiction – in jail, or somewhere else,” Baca said.
Under AB 109, the somewhere else is the county Probation Department, with the help of community treatment programs. Although social service providers largely embrace a system that relies more on rehabilitative services and education than repeat incarceration, the emphasis comes at a time when shelters and nonprofits are facing diminished budgets.
More concerning, said Victoria Simon, executive director of Project 180, a Skid Row-based drug, alcohol and mental health services program, is that a month into the AB 109 era, the Probation Department doesn’t appear to be mandating treatment for those with drug and mental health disorders.
Bingham said the department is authorized to make treatment a condition for early release inmates, as long as their most recent offense relates to the need for supportive services.
Still, Simon, whose nonprofit received county funding to work with AB 109 inmates, said that so far, she’s not seeing treatment listed as a Probation condition.
“At this point it is 100% clear there is no mandated treatment. None,” Simon said.
Project 180 works primarily with parolees ordered by a court to use their services, which include aggressive treatment, sober living and constant monitoring. When treatment is voluntary, Simon said, it’s largely ineffective.
L.A. County expects that by the end of the year, some 5,000 early release inmates who would have entered the parole system will be funneled instead to county supervision.
It’s unclear how many offenders have landed in Skid Row, and because realignment starts by transferring supervision from the state to the county, it’s possible the area won’t see an imminent influx. The impact may only be manifested as new offenders avoid prison and instead get shorter terms in county jail, said Lt. Shannon Paulsen, who oversees the Safer Cities Initiative.
“We’re in a wait and see mode,” Paulsen said.
As Paulsen waits, she’s preparing for a spike in recently released felons. Skid Row has already seen an uptick in its convict population in the wake of a 2009 easing of state parole rules. Between June and August, SCI officers engaged with 250 parolees that officers had never before encountered in the neighborhood, she said.
Last year, a Los Angeles Downtown News analysis found that there were about 800 parolees living in the area bounded by Los Angeles, Alameda, Third and Eighth streets.
Police say homelessness is rising too. Every month, Central Division officers count the number of people sleeping on the street. Before the implementation of SCI, the number hovered at about 1,900. In April 2009 it had fallen to approximately 500. The trend started to reverse last year and in September 2011, officers counted about 1,600 people sleeping on Skid Row sidewalks.
Paulsen said that AB 109 does not necessarily pose a new challenge in Skid Row – it just threatens to heighten the dilemma that many say has long been at the heart of the neighborhood’s struggles: The city’s most vulnerable denizens live side-by-side with those who take advantage of their addictions and desperation.
“By the nature of Skid Row, this is where people are placed, where people who are addicted and mentally ill, who are your ready and available victims, end up,” she said. “It’s the homeless residents, the fixed income people, the addicted and mentally ill people who are going to be the victims of all of these social dynamics.”
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Skid Row’s Perfect Storm
Five years after the launch of the Safer Cities Initiative, Skid Row has seen reductions in crime, homelessness and nonviolent street deaths. By most measures, the community is cleaner and safer, with more housing. Today, that progress is in jeopardy. In a three-part series, Los Angeles Downtown News looks at the state of Skid Row as it faces a new set of challenges.
This week: A prisoner realignment program has some fearing that more drug offenders and felons will wind up on the street.
Nov. 14: A recent court order that prohibits seizure of homeless peoples’ property on Skid Row sidewalks has had other consequences.
Nov. 21: In April 2010, the City Attorney tried a new tactic to combat the Skid Row drug trade. As police prepare to enforce it, the drug game is alive and well.
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Published online on Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2009
By Jerry P. Dyer
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The economic downturn, increased unemployment rates and a rise in alcohol consumption and drug use have created an irritable and unpredictable society that has the potential to negatively influence crime rates.
All of this, coupled with the increased number of parolees on our streets in Fresno due to the early release of inmates, will make it more difficult to control crime in Fresno and throughout the state. Given Fresno’s demographics, our challenges may even be greater than other cities.
Adding to the frustration for law enforcement in Fresno and the entire state is the budget mess in Sacramento. We will all be less safe if the current budget that’s being considered in Sacramento is adopted.
The proposed budget includes some unprecedented provisions that will place our communities directly at risk.
First, the budget proposes reductions in the Department of Corrections that will involve the wholesale accelerated release of at least 20,000 felons into our communities.
Please understand that in California, felons re-offend 70% of the time over a three-year period. In addition, most law enforcement studies have shown that by the time someone is arrested, they have committed approximately 13 crimes. Finally, in other states where felons have been released early, 20% of the crimes they committed were violent ones.
Putting this all together for California, this means that 14,000 felons are likely to commit more than 180,000 new crimes over a three-year period — 36,000 of which will be violent crimes.
In 2008, violent crime in Fresno fell 8.6% compared to 2007, and between 2001 and 2008, violent crime had fallen by 32%. Unfortunately, the worsening economy, the increased release of parolees and other stressors in our community has led to a near 10% increase in violent crime during the first five months of 2009.
We were already starting to see this unfortunate trend develop last year when property crime rose 5.1% in 2008, the first increase since 2001.
Second, the proposed budget actually undercuts the very concept of “public” safety. It does this by requiring that local police departments pay a fee each time they use the state crime lab for forensic services. They have to pay this fee even though your taxes are already paying for the state crime labs.
This effectively means that public safety is no longer public. While affluent communities may be able to have the state crime lab process rape kits for essential DNA information, poorer communities will be unable to do so.
This state budget — for the first time in the state’s history — will mandate inferior investigative services for crime victims who live in poorer communities. This is not only terrible public safety policy, it is shameful and offensive.
Should this proposal become a reality, it will cost the Fresno Police Department more than $1 million annually. This would require us to cut elsewhere, or to simply not process evidence as we should.
Finally, the proposed budget completely destroys the 51 multi-jurisdictional methamphetamine task forces that have played a significant role in our front-line defense against major methamphetamine producers.
Meth operations have become increasingly sophisticated and violent, and these task forces have been essential to local law enforcement. Moreover, the Mexican drug cartels are poised to move their operations into California. The destruction of these task forces amounts to unilateral disarmament of essential law enforcement resources.
This is unacceptable; surely Sacramento policymakers can do better than this.
As it stands today, these three proposals are all poised to be adopted; if they are, the safety of communities across California will be compromised.
Jerry P. Dyer is the chief of police for the city of Fresno.
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