By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – Objections to hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster law enforcement in the city of Sacramento and the state of California took center stage at the Capitol and City Hall Tuesday – at a time when public conversation is about defunding police, at least in part, it seems lawmakers on a local and state level want to fund the law enforcement more, not less.
In the City of Sacramento, a coalition of local community-led organizations rallied and demanded a voice in the City budget, with the goal of demanding city “disinvestment” from law enforcement and a “deep investment in community-led health and safety measures.”
The coalition of local groups said it wants to “uplift key budget demands,” including, divest Sacramento Police Department’s budget, increase Dept. of Community Response funding, prioritize funds for emergency housing assistance and increase funds for Participatory Budgeting.
Councilmember Katie Valenzuela noted, “A fundamental statement of values of any government is how we spend our money. The people of the City of Sacramento are demanding a different type of investment, it’s past time for us to listen.”
According to a statement released by the coalition, “Activists, community and leadership organizations gather to build and support a people’s budget that gives community control and voice in the 2021-2022 budget for the City of Sacramento. To support a budget that is reflective of community priorities, in order to create equitable health and safety conditions for all Sacramento residents.
“Participating partners demand disinvestment in law enforcement and deep investment in community–led measures,” said the Sacramento coalition.
In a statement, the Sacramento coalition said:
“As Sacramento City Council begins reviewing the city’s budget and setting budget priorities, we demand our elected officials put our community’s most urgent needs above Law Enforcement. The community doesn’t need another ‘status quo’ budget — we need a people’s budget built by our input and participation.
“After enduring a year of COVID-19 condition, Sacramento’s long history of racial and gender inequities alongside chronic underinvestment have created the disproportionate impact we seeing and feeling among our Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Immigrants, People without Housing, LGBTQIA+ people, and Youth.
“And yet just as most California cities seek to invest in community-based care and non-punitive alternatives to emergency crisis response, Sacramento City Council is considering increasing the Sacramento Police Department’s budget — it’s largest budget item — by $10 million to a record $167.5 million.”
Just a few blocks away, at the State Capitol, criminal justice reform advocates complained about Gov. Newsom’s May budget revision that expands faltering pretrial programs – $140 million worth in the next few years.
“It is reprehensible that the Governor’s budget expands funding to botched, probation-led pretrial pilots, rather than funding the community-based pretrial services Californians desperately need. Community-based services build authentic public safety, where probation surveils and re-incarcerates our loved ones,” said Ivette Alé, Dignity and Power NOW Senior Policy Lead and Co-Founder of La Defensa.
“By expanding probation-led pretrial pilots modeled after the failed SB10, the Governor is ignoring the will of the voters, and empowering law enforcement in a way that is diametrically opposed to our vision of authentic public safety,” Alé told THE VANGUARD.
At Capitol budget hearings – to be continued Thursday – lawmakers heard more about the governor’s budget.
But the Care First California Coalition was there, too. It is an alliance of community organizations, directly impacted people, state and national advocacy groups, civil rights advocates and public defenders who seek to replace the carceral system with a system that provides support and care for all people in need.
“The harms of pretrial detention are well-documented: it punishes people presumed to be innocent without them having been convicted; it costs taxpayers greatly; it causes people to lose jobs, homes, healthcare, connection to family; it coerces people to plead guilty regardless of actual guilt because prosecutors and judges offer freedom in exchange for guilty pleas.
“The existing pretrial system, where up to 70 percent of caged persons in county jails are pretrial, must be fixed,” the coalition said in a statement, adding the governor’s proposed $210 million investment in probation-led pretrial programs is “flawed.”
One reason cited is that voters have already spoken, rejecting, in November of last year, rejected Prop. 25, stating, in effect, they “did not want an expansion of probation-led pretrial programs and biased RATs (biased risk assessment tools) to determine who should be released pre-trial.”
The coalition also noted that “Harmful collateral consequences of pretrial pilots are not being fully considered: Some people who have been given the option of enrolling in the pretrial pilot have opted to remain incarcerated as that allows them to be released more quickly…judges often tend to override the RAT score in favor of a harsher, more punitive pretrial release condition.
“These conditions, which often involve ‘search and seizure’ at any time, weekly drug tests, and electronic monitoring, effectively create a standard of guilty until proven innocent. In San Francisco, the use of electronic monitoring increased by 274 percent after the Humphrey decision was implemented. These conditions are seemingly designed to ensure those who are in probation-led pretrial programs falter and end up incarcerated,” said Care First California coalition.
The coalition added that “Expanding pretrial pilot funding without data and transparency is a public safety and budgetary concern: The state continues to expand probation-led pretrial pilots without meaningful public reporting and quality review. It is fiscally irresponsible to expand pilots that lack a proven track record of effectiveness, quality review, and longer-term benefit.”
The coalition targeted the unconstitutional acts by probation departments, noting that “The presumption of innocence is a basic right provided by our Constitution: Probation Departments are law enforcement agencies that should not be supervising or engaging with individuals in the pretrial phase of presumed innocence.
The coalition explained, “It compromises their right to a fair trial and perpetuates over-incarceration by creating a scenario where individuals can be detained for missing a check-in meeting with a probation officer due to childcare issues, employment conflicts or meeting other human needs.
“Pretrial services in California counties are rapidly evolving, but funding probation-led pretrial programs is not the answer. The need for legislative changes that honor and preserve the presumption of innocence by limiting probation and judges’ ability to incarcerate people pretrial is clear,” said the Care First California coalition.
“Legislation should set up legal standards and procedures that guarantee due process and fair hearings. It should prevent judges from imposing burdensome release conditions, like electronic monitoring and drug testing, that set people up for re-incarceration. It should establish pretrial services agencies, independent of law enforcement, that help people get to court while ensuring safety for all people involved.
“We must fund effective community-led pretrial programs that provide support and protect public safety, legislate limits that make the criminal legal system fairer, and that honor and preserve the presumption of innocence,” added the Care First California coalition.