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In an effort to address what the city’s police chief called “unintended consequences” of recent reforms that lowered penalties for certain crimes and enabled early release for some inmates, Citrus Heights City Council members voted 4-0 on Thursday to back a new ballot effort that seeks to enact tougher penalties for certain crimes, reform the parole review process, and expand DNA collection.
The “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” is a ballot initiative effort currently seeking to collect enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot later this year. In addition to gaining the support of the City of Citrus Heights, the initiative has the support of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, the California Police Chiefs Association, and several other cities — including the cities of Alhambra and Eureka.
“When Prop 47 was passed, it raised the theft dollar amount from $400 to $950 for theft to be considered a felony,” Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence told council members on Thursday. “As a result, there’s been an explosion in serial thefts and an inability of law enforcement to prosecute these crimes effectively.”
The chief pointed to a rise in violent crimes in California in 2015, which he attributed to the passage of Prop 47 in November, 2014. “Violent crime in Sacramento specifically rose faster during the first six months of 2015 than any other of the 25 largest U.S. cities tracked by the FBI,” Lawrence said.
While opponents blame Assembly Bill 109 and Propositions 47 and 57 for a recent rise in crime, supporters say the reforms have saved California millions of dollars in incarceration costs and cite data showing property crimes dropped in California between 2010 and 2016.
Among several changes, the “Keeping California Safe Act” would expand the definition of violent crimes for which early release is not an option, and also reinstate DNA collection for some crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors by Prop 47. The Act would also authorize felony charges to be made for serial theft, if a criminal is caught for a third time stealing items valued over $250.
Voting in favor of endorsing the new ballot initiative was Mayor Steve Miller and fellow councilmen Bret Daniels, Al Fox, and Jeff Slowey. Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins was absent from the meeting.
In voicing support for the ballot initiative, Councilman Fox, who has a background in law enforcement and previously served as a parole hearing officer, focused his comments on aspects of the Act that would reform the parole system to ensure that review boards take into account an inmate’s entire criminal history rather than only their most recent offense.
“It’s easy to be a nice person in custody and to survive that system… if you really want to and you work at it,” said Fox. “But it’s that accumulated criminal history that the parole board member needs to have if they’re going to make a realistic decision as to whether or not the person sitting before them today is going to be further victimizing people in our communities.”
Councilman Daniels acknowledged “some good intentions” with recent criminal reform efforts, but said “you can’t deny that the 2015 spike” is connected with Prop 47. Councilman Slowey also voiced support for the ballot effort, stating that a ballot fix is the only option this year, since “the governor will not sign anything to undo what he’s done over the last couple of years.”
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