Supporters of Prop 47 Rollback Charge Foul Play by Legislature; Fail to Note Falling Crime Rates (Updated)

Greg Totten, photo by David M. Greenwald

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Gathering in front of the Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday, a group calling themselves Californians for Safer Communities Coalition pushed back against what they called legislative leadership’s attempt to insert “poison pill” language into their legislative crime package as a way to deceive voters on the initiative that would modify, if not rollback, Prop. 47 that qualified this week for the November ballot.

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig—not in attendance at the event—issued a statement: “We’re calling on the California Attorney General to rise above political games when writing the title and summary for the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act (Initiative 23-00017A1). We need our state leaders to focus on real solutions that address the root causes of these problems – instead of sabotaging a voter-supported ballot measure with widespread bipartisan support.”

Greg Totten, co-chair of Californians for Safer Communities who also is director of the California District Attorney Association said, “We know that Californians are demanding a response to the explosion of retail theft and the fentanyl crisis that is literally killing our children, and we’re here to tell politicians don’t play politics with public safety. That’s the wrong thing to do in the current environment.”

He added, “We all came together to draft and qualify a ballot initiative, frankly, because politicians in the Capitol have ignored our concerns and in California, when politicians fail to act as they have done here, the people have the power to change our laws, and that is precisely what we are here to do today.”

Totten charged, “The legislature’s plan to include an automatic repeal or as it’s more aptly known, a poison pill in their package of crime bills proves they are not serious about addressing retail theft or the Fentanyl crisis. The legislature’s poison pill plan leaves no doubt that we need a comprehensive solution cannot be undone by legislators who are sadly out of touch with the Californians they serve.”

Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh

Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh, who is also the President of the American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association, said she was speaking on behalf of the over 2000 members who own gas stations, convenience stores, and liquor stores throughout California.

Mayor Singh said, “I’m also speaking to you on behalf of the 900,900,000 Californians that signed the ballot initiative. Bottom line, we want change. We demand change.”

She explained, “The Homelessness Drug and Theft Reduction Act would place these sensible and compassionate, compassionate reforms on the ballot to address the unintended consequences of Proposition 47.”

She added, “Every day across California, members have reported thousands of dollars of stolen goods, damages to their properties, attacks on their employees and customers who is protecting them. Enough is enough.”

Singh charged, “Legislative leaders are making concerted efforts to thwart the will of these voters, showing that they are not committed to holding repeat offenders and theft and drug trafficking persons accountable. This is pure politics.”

Napa County District Attorney, Allison Haley

They were joined by Napa County District Attorney, Allison Haley, the incoming President of the California DA’s Association.

Haley said, “These are real lives and these are real people and these are real families that are here today and up here and out there that are suffering and they have been repeatedly ignored.”

She said, “I am extremely proud and extremely humbled to be here today surrounded by members of the bipartisan Californians for Safer Communities Coalition.”

However, Haley charged that “the reason that we are here is deeply disappointing. As an elected district attorney in the state of California, my mission is to ensure that public safety remains a top priority for local government to maintain the high quality of life that we enjoy in this state.”

She continued, “But unfortunately, we have witnessed increased crime across the state due to the unintended consequences of Prop. 47. We have seen, you have seen, we have all seen individuals brazenly breaking the law by committing smash and grab thefts and other crimes.”

However, Democratic leaders in the legislature disputed that charge.

At a press conference on Monday, Speaker Robert Rivas stated flatly, “There are no poison pills.  It’s a very misleading talking point, to be honest with you.”

He said, “We have a serious organized retail theft problem in the state, everyone knows that, and these bills take action by giving police and district attorneys new tools to hold criminals accountable without going back to the blunt and failed force of the mass-incarceration era. It’s that simple.”

He explained, “Republican legislators who are threatening to drop support of these smart and effective solutions are deflecting away from their own failures. And in the event voters go in a different direction this fall, the Legislature will respect that decision, because that’s what democracy is about.”

Reverend Mac Shorty, Community RePower Movement

The Vanguard spoke on Wednesday with Senator Nancy Skinner, author of SB 1144, which would hold “online marketplaces accountable to check the legality of their sellers.”

She declined to address the issue of the poison pill.

However, it was notable that none of the speakers at the press conference acknowledged that crime is in fact going down.

“The crime rate is definitely going down. Retail theft is down. Any number of indicators show that it’s down,” Senator Skinner stated, adding that it’s also down in Oakland, a key city in her district.

She explained, “I think what we see is… you have some people, some proponents of an initiative that they purport is going to address retail theft when it has really little in it to do with retail theft.”

She said, “When we talk to our large retailers, they’re very clear.  What they want is a bill like mine.  They’re all in favor of it because it gets at the way that stolen goods are being sold now.”

The key she said is that the organized entities are selling it online and they appear to the person buying it to be a legitimate business.

Contrary to claims by prosecutors and law enforcement, prosecutors are not having any trouble charging folks with felonies.

“They’re not having trouble,” Senator Skinner said.  “But they also have, what they do need though is the ability to track them down and the ability to, because we know that they are, much of this material is being sold. It’s not being sold out of the trunk of a car or standing on a corner. It’s being sold online.”

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón continues to back Prop 47, noting that while, “Every Californian deserves to feel safe whether they’re at home, at work, at school, or at the store…  We don’t need to roll back Prop 47 to accomplish these goals. ”

He said he recognizes that more has to be done to address both retail theft and fentanyl in our communities, “which is why I’ve been working with partners in law enforcement, public health, and the legislature to pursue evidence-backed solutions to keep our community safe.”

He supports the legislatures comprehensive package.

“The California legislature is currently considering a comprehensive package that responds to the concerns of community members, businesses, and law enforcement on these issues, and they’re working to ensure that this package can go into effect as soon as the governor signs it, bringing real public safety to our communities now, not months later,” he said.

The goal of the legislation is in part to avoid going to the bad old days of mass incarceration.

Even supporters of the Prop. 47 initiative say that is what they support.

“None of us want to return to the days of mass incarceration, and that certainly is not what we are supporting with these modest amendments to Prop. 47,” said Reverend Mac Shorty, Community RePower Movement who spoke at the press conference on Wednesday.  “We need a comprehensive approach to solving crime and making our communities safer with tougher penalties for trafficking hard drugs like fentanyl, tougher penalties for smash-and-grab thefts, and consequences or incentives to get those addicted to drugs the treatment they desperately need.”

However, Senator Skinner believes that argument is disenguous.

She charged, “The proponents of this initiative are being disingenuous. They are weaving a story that is not true. And they are purporting to have an initiative that’s going to, for example, stop retail theft when the retailers themselves say, no, what we need is bills like Skinner’s.”

Not only is retail theft now declining, Skinner added, “drug use now, fortunately, we are also seeing fentanyl use go down.”

She added, “That’s the other good news statistically, which is really a relief.”  She noted, “Having laws criminalizing the user has not reversed the use of that drug.”

Skinner said, “What I’m confident about is that the package of bills that we’ve put forward really address crime and the drug problems. And there are, they’re based on real solutions that have been proven to work. They were crafted with good interaction with stakeholders, with law enforcement, with community-based agencies, with experts, because we want our community safe. And so they were crafted from that perspective.”

Gascón also believes the ballot initiative “isn’t really about public safety because Prop 47 has made our communities safer.”

He noted, “Prop 47 has saved more than $800 million in taxpayer dollars that have been invested into crime prevention efforts in our communities. And these programs work — participants of programs backed by Prop 47 funding have recidivism rates up to 30 percentage points lower than those returning from state prison. That means less crime and fewer victims in our communities.

He warned, “over the next 10 years, the ballot initiative to roll back Prop 47 would take hundreds of millions of dollars away from the state’s most successful drug treatment and homelessness prevention programs and from services for survivors of crime. So there are real risks to public safety and public health if Prop 47 is rolled back.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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