by Robert J. Hansen
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and his challenger in this year’s primary election, Cynthia Rodriguez, faced off in a debate hosted by the Yolo County Taxpayer Association Thursday night.
The candidates made their case for why they should be Yolo County’s chief prosecutor to the over 100 attendees by answering several questions submitted that evening.
Secretary of the Taxpayer Association Timothy Blank moderated the event.
Q: “What will you do about homeless people who won’t accept treatment or services because they like living on the streets?”
Rodriguez: “I know a lot of people are concerned because I’ve seen interviews or people on TV talking about liking their freedom. One of the things we have to realize is that living on the streets is very demeaning and can be embarrassing, so some people will say they are happy to do it now because they like sleeping outside at night in the cold. I do think there is a number who will be willing to enter shelters but I do agree that there will be people who are afraid of being in someone else’s control. What we have to do is turn to the experts and see what they’ve done with that. There are many communities, especially on the West Coast that have been able to have successful programs to move people off the streets. None of these programs will solve everybody’s problems. We will always have outliers. But it can make a difference if we give them the assistance that the experts have shown has worked before. I do think that it will get most people off the street because, as you can imagine, it is not a desirable life.”
Reisig: “This is personal for me as well as professional. I have a nephew who I love very much and has been homeless for nine years. He’s addicted to heroin. He’s not in this county but he is someplace where I see him from time to time standing on the side of the road. It breaks my heart. So when I talk about homelessness I talk about it as someone who has seen it for 25 years from that side and also as a DA who has somebody that shares my name that lives on the street, that uses heroin every day, that steals and creates victims every day to support his habit. Look at my plan. Go to my website. The first part of this plan is about treatment. Here’s the deal: we don’t need to send these people to jail or prison for being homeless, that’s not the answer. But what are the root causes? What’s driving it? What I have seen is that most of these people suffer from an illness, mental illness or addiction, and addiction is a mental illness and they need help, they need treatment. Governor Newsom’s over there right now trying to figure out how we get these folks into treatment before they go out and victimize someone. Not all homeless do that, but I’m sad to say that most do. So part of the plan is mandating treatment. Whenever they come into contact with the criminal justice system, and unfortunately they do a lot, we should be aggressively intervening to get them into a treatment program. My nephew, we’ve tried and tried and tried, he’s not going to do this voluntarily. Someone needs to tell him you’re doing this if you can’t just walk away.”
Q: “Due to the $950 theft limit, Woodland now has a theft problem, particularly with high school students. Do you promote police making arrests and victims pressing charges or do you feel that this will burn out or be best handled through restorative justice programs?”
Prop. 47 reclassified certain drug and theft offenses to misdemeanors from felonies in 2014.
Reisig: “The question seems to focus on kids. If you have juveniles committing these crimes, we have a whole separate juvenile system and it’s not punitive. It’s not designed to be punitive, especially for lower-level crimes like that. We’re all focused on the rehabilitation of these young men and women. We don’t want to lock them. But this is the much bigger issue, the retail theft problem is across California and it’s what’s driving these smash and grabs. As long as it’s under $950, nobody is going to jail because the law says that these people get a ticket. That is a broken law,” Reisig said.
He continued saying that large box stores have told him they have stopped reporting thefts and no longer call the police.
“The underreporting on this is epic,” Reisig said. “Let’s be honest, this law is not working.”
Rodriguez: “What are the facts? Do people have a lot of theft that they’re not reporting or are they not reporting theft because they’re not having any? Interestingly we have a district attorney telling us he has been in charge for 16 years and yet these crimes are increasing. I think that’s a problem. They say the same thing in Sacramento. They have a conservative, law and order district attorney but the crimes are increasing. I think the first thing that it shows is that it’s not because someone wants to show compassion for juveniles or even adults. My understanding is that our level is lower than about 40 states that have an even higher amount than we do. I don’t think that’s the real issue. I think the real issue is what we are investigating. Are juveniles doing it or are there ring leaders? It doesn’t seem likely to me that a few juveniles are starting these giant rings of smash and grabs. It seems more likely to me that it’s organized crime. We have prosecutorial tools that should be put to the test and figure out what’s going on out there, prosecutors right now who should be doing that. We can’t arrest a few kids and let them take the responsibility while some mastermind is getting away with all of this. These crimes that we keep reading about, seem a little bit larger than teens taking candy bars.”
Q: “Your values include the promotion of transparency and addressing racial bias. Commons is one of your solutions. However, the website aimed to make criminal justice statistics available to the public is inaccurate. How is Yolo County meant to rely on your leadership for transparency when your solutions are unreliable?”
Reisig: “I don’t know where that comes from, that’s just wrong. I went to Measures to Justice, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization out of Rochester New York, and told them I wanted them to make a portal that allows people to see anything they want to. Guess what they said, they’d like to. Measures for Justice met with community members and sled them what they wanted to see and they built it. It was the first in the nation. Measures for Justice does the auditing and makes sure that what they’re publishing is accurate. The reality is that this transparency portal is transformational. I believe in government transparency and people need to be able to look at it themselves because, I don’t trust the government, and if I put it out why would people trust me? The bottom line is that we’re using that data in our office to drive policy. To look at our policies and see how we can adjust them to address the disparities that we’re seeing.”
Rodriguez: “Two of the many things I talk about frequently are DA discretion and transparency because I think they go hand in hand. A DA gets to set his priorities, she also gets to decide what is not prioritized and in my opinion, transparency should have been prioritized since day one. For the first time in 15 years, we have some statistics. The problem with that is we have always deserved to see what our taxpayer dollars were being spent on. This is not the first information put out by a DA’s office. Many have these presentations of all their information. On top of that, they have an analysis of all those statistics because dry statistics are what Will Rogers said, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Just looking at statistics doesn’t tell you why something is happening. We have to have an analysis which we do not. Last year the public defender said in our County we have three percent African American people and have 25 percent in our jail. At the time she was derided by our DA saying she was trying to attack the judiciary and the prosecution and all she was doing was citing statistics. And we still don’t have an analysis of why that is. I want to make all the information available to you from day one, update it regularly, and explain to you what we’re going to do about problematic things. You deserve to know what is being done with your tax dollars.”