Last week voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47, which reduces drug and petty theft crimes to misdemeanors. On Monday, the Vanguard noted the impact of Prop. 47 on the Yolo County DA’s practice of charging small petty thefts as felonies no matter how small, if they can justify it based on past record.
On Tuesday, we talked with Jeff Adachi, who addressed some of the impacts and discussed whether Prop. 47 ends mass incarceration. He said, “It’s the beginning.” But he argued that California also needs comprehensive sentencing reform and bail reform to deal with systemic inequities.
Davis Police Chief Landy Black was opposed to Prop. 47 during the election. In a column in the Davis Enterprise, Chief Black wrote, “It is my professional opinion that if Prop. 47 passes, the results would be bad for law-abiding citizens, businesses and property owners, and entirely contrary to my and the Davis Police Department’s crime prevention and community safety efforts.”
He added, “Prop. 47 would be disastrous to the prospect of assuring safe neighborhoods, especially here in Davis. There would be less safety in our neighborhoods and more victims of crime — a markedly lower quality of life.”
But now Prop. 47 has passed, so what does that mean for how the Davis Police Department operates?
Chief Black told the Vanguard this was a complicated question, and “no criminal act was made lawful with the passage of Prop. 47. For the most part, what Prop. 47 directly impacts is the manner in which crimes are dealt with after the police do their job.”
Chief Black said, “For the time being, and at least in the near future, the community will see the Davis PD performing essentially the same as the community has become accustomed [to]. We will continue to respond to all calls for help/assistance or reports of crime we receive even, if as expected, crime rates and calls for service increase — which is already the case in the wake of another accountability- and custody-reducing law — AB109.”
The chief added, “In the future, the community, through whatever mechanisms, will have to address the issue of how the City of Davis and its police department addresses the increasing crime rate.”
Chief Black said, “This leads me to re-state the virtually unassailable assertion that caused me great concern before the vote, and continues now that Prop. 47 is law: ‘Just making criminal penalties lighter doesn’t make the crime any less serious, especially for the victims. All it does is guarantee that, to whatever degree deterrence plays a role, there will be more crimes committed. Unless the laws of human nature are suspended, there will be more victims.’”
He added, “The impact on any community and its police, including the Davis community and the Davis Police, is that ultimately there will be more crime to address.”
“So, do we add resources (people) to continue providing the services citizens have come to expect in response to their calls? Or do we develop alternatives to receiving and following up on crime reports that do not involve as much staff time? To provide the same level of service ultimately costs tax-payers more. Either that or the level of service is degraded,” the chief added.
At the Yolo County Court level, the Vanguard spoke this week to Cathleen Berger, Deputy Court Executive Officer. She told the Vanguard, “We aren’t making any drastic or calendar changes at the moment. We are working with our justice partners, the DA and the Public Defender, and the County to evaluate the workload.”
She said they will make calendar changes as necessary. This could include an additional misdemeanor department. Currently the county has five felony departments and one misdemeanor department with a separate drug court.
She said, “Right now we’re not moving in that direction. We’re making sure we do exactly what we need to do under the guidelines of the proposition.” However, she added, “We’re anticipating the need for at least one additional misdemeanor department but we have not made that change as of yet.”
Ms. Berger said that any changes for the courts are really just “a calendar shift or a workload shift, we don’t anticipate there will be any less filings, it’s just a different type of filings.”
There will be an influx of people to recall and re-sentence defendants, “which will cause a workload for the court. But hopefully that’s just short-term until we get through all of the re-sentencing.”
At the prosecution level, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully told the Bee last week that she was disappointed that the measure passed.
“Proposition 47 will not eliminate crime; it has only reduced the consequences of crime,” Ms. Scully told the paper. “When you reduce the consequences of crime, then there are some people who won’t be deterred from committing crime.”
“Procedurally, we’re going to have to deal with the post-conviction side because there were people convicted of felonies who can come into court and ask that it be reduced to a misdemeanor,” Ms. Scully said. “Then there’s the people both in prison and out who will be taking advantage of that.
“Then there’s the pending cases that we’ll have to address, those who are charged with felonies.”
She told the Bee that the law will require an expansion in the number of people working in misdemeanor cases. She told the paper, “Currently, that workforce consists of seven prosecutors and five legal research assistants. [Scully’s office] estimates that within a year it will have 3,000 cases filed as misdemeanors that previously would have been charged as felonies.”
But San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who supported the measure, sees it as a turning point by diverting money that was going to incarceration to treatment programs to help break the cycle of crime. He argued that felony convictions make it far more difficult for individuals to get jobs and housing, therefore it increases pressure on offenders to commit more crimes.
“We must devote our resources to keeping violent criminals off the streets, not cycling addicts in and out of jail,” Mr. Gascon said in a statement. “This is the beginning of turning around in assessing public safety issues… [it’s about] being able to distinguish between the dangerous and the nuisance.”
Mr. Gascon added, “It goes to a deeper problem that we’ve had in our society, of incarcerating people with mental health and substance abuse problems.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting