Crime is on the rise, says a coalition of politicians and law enforcement groups called the Keep California Safe Coalition, which they also claim is unexpected for the current era of economic prosperity.
City Hall was the site of a hot debate on crime designations that effect prison sentences, and how easily criminals can be released to the street at the Tuesday, March 6, city council meeting.
Winters Police Department chief John Miller, a member of the coalition presented the Keep California Safe act of 2018, asked the council to endorse an official resolution.
The act proposes changes to AB 47 and 57, which lowered some crimes to misdemeanors to address the state’s overcrowded prisons. Many crimes allowed for early release if they were deemed nonviolent, but according to Miller there were oversights in the bill causing crime such as rape of an unconscious person and domestic violence as “non-violent” offenses.
Council Member Jesse Loren took issue with the coalition and the act, saying that it undermined the spirit of voter passed bills on focusing on rehabilitation rather than keeping offenders in prison.
“At its root, it’s not that complicated,” said Miller of the coalition’s proposal.
He said that the impacts of AB 47 and 57 were visible to police officers who deal with offenders firsthand.
“California has a larger increase in violent crime than the rest of the U.S… (Winters is) small, but we are not impervious to the impacts,” said Miller.
According to Miller the initiative does not seek to overturn any bill, just change some crimes to be classified as violent.
Another change to the law when voters passed AB 47 was to increase the threshold for felony theft from $450 to $950. The Keep California Safe Act seeks to combat serial thefts by continuing to count offenses under $950 as misdemeanors twice, but the third offense will be considered a felony at $250.
The act would also result in more DNA collection as crimes are increased in severity in the eyes of the law.
Loren brought up concerns about the fiscal impact of the act and increased personnel costs.
“Initially the impact is probably in the tens of millions. There’s no need for us to make a decision on this tonight,” she said.
Loren did express her support for being tougher on sexual assault and that resources should go toward processing evidence from those crimes, but she did not feel that government money would be well spent keeping less violent offenders in jail.
“It would be nice to hear from an expert how much money it costs,” said Loren.
She felt that it gave the council a skewed perspective to only hear from a member of the act’s coalition before deciding whether or not to support the initiative.
Miller cited numbers reported by the FBI claiming a 4.1 percent increase in violent crime in the state. He also said there was a 2.9 percent decrease in property crimes, but blames that statistic on low report rates.
“I won’t report it to the police because I know it won’t go anywhere,” he said of the mentality.
Miller said that another bill, AB 109, resulted in reverse incentives for counties sending people to jail, meaning fewer incarcerated persons translates to more money.
“In 2008 law enforcement braced itself,” said Miller, “In a depression, we have an increase in crime. What we’re seeing right now is the opposite of that, a booming economy and an increase in crime.”
He also assured the council that the purpose of the act was not to raise control on drug use.
“This does not address drug crimes one bit,” he said, “They will stay misdemeanors, that is a social health issue.
“Society gets the society they want with the diminishment of law enforcement.”
Other council members supported the act.
“This seeks to address some of the shortcomings, I think this is a good step to correcting that,” said Council Member Bill Biasi.
“This is a never-ending story that you’re not going to get right,” said Council Member Harold Anderson, “The state is shoving all this stuff on the locals and the community is the one that’s suffering. I think it’s important that we support our police as best we can.”
“I think there’s more good than evil,” said Council Member Pierre Neu.
“I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” agreed Mayor Wade Cowan.
The resolution to support the initiative passed with a 4-1 vote, Loren the sole opposition.
Public Works Operations Manager Eric Lucero and Environmental Services Manager Carol Scianna presented the status of some upcoming projects around the city.
They said a linear park is still planned for the area of new residential development near the public safety facility on the west intersection of Main Street and Grant Avenue.
The also reported an increase from $7,000 to $10,000 to go to fixing sidewalks from AB 1 gas taxes.
Both Neu and Biasi said that they would like to see even more of an emphasis on sidewalk improvement.
According to City Manager John Donlevy, the city plans on installing a welcome sign in the roundabout on Grant Avenue.
Scianna reported that the city continues to discuss an easement with McClish parcel property owners to allow the Putah Creek Nature trail to be accessible from Grant Avenue near the PG&E safety facility, without success.
“The conversations we have had with the owner have not been very fruitful. I hope they sell soon. That would kind of fix that problem.”