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No On Prop 47

By Todd Fordahl, Chief of Police, Angels Camp Police Department

Proposition 47 Will Not Make Neighborhoods and Schools Safer

I have worked in Calaveras County law enforcement since 1998, and in just over twenty years of working as a cop, I have been fortunate enough to never feel the need to write an op-ed piece on any pending legislation. Until now. Coming up in November, voters will have the opportunity to vote on what is possibly one of the most irresponsible propositions to ever make it on a ballot.

Proponents of Proposition 47, entitled “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” claim that the act simply alters sentencing of low-level non-violent crimes, such as drug possession and petty theft, from felonies to misdemeanors. They also claim direct financial savings going to other state services, including the K-12 schools, mental health, and victim services. These claims are false. Proposition 47 is not a responsible long-term solution to California’s overcrowded criminal justice system. There is nothing progressive about disincentivizing rehabilitation, reducing the penalties for the possession of predatory drugs and downgrading the theft of a firearm to a misdemeanor. This poorly drafted legislation opens the doors for the early release of up to 10,000 felons from state prison, all of whom worked very hard to earn the right to be there, and all of whom committed serious and/or violent crimes. In fact, an estimated 8,000 of those 10,000 felons include inmates with prior convictions for armed robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, child abuse, residential burglary, arson, assault with a deadly weapon, and many other serious crimes. They would all be eligible for early release under Proposition 47. (Per the Legislative Analyst’s Office.)

Since 2011, which was the beginning of this state’s prison realignment program, (otherwise known as AB 109) we in local law enforcement have seen an increase in the number of transitory convicted felons coming into our areas. These felons are not from here, and they are not coming here to support or nurture our way of life. They are here to commit predatory crimes, victimize, and drain limited resources. Additionally, since the realignment program started we have also seen an increase in the number of convicted criminals that are doing straight local time in our county jail, versus being sent to state prison. There are no “petty” criminals in our prison system anymore, nor is anyone in California incarcerated for simple drug possession. Setting up to 10,000 more predators free does not in any way, shape, or form, make for “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools.” In fact, it will have the exact opposite effect.

Proposition 47 not only reduces the penalty for the possession of dangerous drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, it also decreases the penalty for the possession of predatory “date rape” drugs such as rophenol, ketamine, and GHB. Proposition 47 provides sexual predators with a “get out of jail free” card, regardless of how many times a predator is caught with date rape drugs. And for those that care to know the facts, possession of marijuana is an infraction in California, similar to a speeding ticket, punishable by a fine of no more than $100.00. No one is incarcerated for personal possession of marijuana under California law. When it comes to simple drug possession of any kind, California is committed to rehabilitation, not incarceration. Under Proposition 36, passed by California voters in 2000, defendants convicted of non-violent drug possession receive a probationary sentence in lieu of incarceration. As a condition of probation, defendants are required to complete a licensed and/or certified community drug treatment program. If the defendant fails to complete the program or violates any other term or condition of their probation, the defendant is sentenced to additional treatment programs. As a practical matter, virtually no one is incarcerated in California for simple drug possession. Under Proposition 47, which reduces all personal drug possession cases to misdemeanors, the incentive to complete the programs put into place under Proposition 36 will be effectively eliminated. Why complete a drug program in lieu of a possible felony conviction, when the charge is now reduced to a simple misdemeanor?

Proposition 47 Will Not Make Neighborhoods and Schools Safer any other term or condition of their probation, the defendant is sentenced to additional treatment programs. As a practical matter, virtually no one is incarcerated in California for simple drug possession. Under Proposition 47, which reduces all personal drug possession cases to misdemeanors, the incentive to complete the programs put into place under Proposition 36 will be effectively eliminated. Why complete a drug program in lieu of a possible felony conviction, when the charge is now reduced to a simple misdemeanor?

Proposition 47 would eliminate automatic felony prosecution for stealing a gun. People steal handguns for violent, predatory purposes. Under current law, regardless of the value of the gun, stealing a gun is a felony as it should be. Proposition 47 would redefine grand theft in such a way that theft of a firearm would only be considered a felony if the value of a gun is $950.00 or more. The average Glock 17 costs between $300.00 and $425.00, and the majority of handguns do not retail for more than $950.00. Proposition 47 will also allow more criminals to legally own guns. Felony convictions carry a lifetime prohibition on owning guns. By making many of the current felonies misdemeanors, it allows people convicted of those crimes to escape restrictions on gun ownership. I am not a gun control advocate, but we should not be passing laws that make it easier for those that have no business possessing guns to legally own them.

In conclusion, Proposition 47 does not advance California and its passage would not be responsible for keeping low-level offenders out of our state prison system. Reducing penalties for crimes such as possession of predatory drugs and the theft of a firearm is not a responsible, sustainable, or realistic approach to addressing prison overcrowding, and it most certainly does not make for safe neighborhoods and schools. The measure would in no way benefit our community or California as a whole.