Aug. 25, 2017: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWS GROUP OPINION - Statewide data -- Criminal justice reforms have not increased crime

August 25, 2017

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By editor Sal Rodriguez

As much as some politicians, police unions and pundits want it to be true, crime isn’t out of control in California. In fact, crime rates are about as low as they have ever been in the past 50 years.

On Aug. 17, the state attorney general released statewide crime data for 2016. Overall, the violent crime rate ticked up 4.1 percent compared with 2015 and property crime fell by 2.9 percent.

For every 100,000 Californians, there were 443.9 violent crimes in 2016 and 2,554.5 property crimes. While any amount of crime is a problem, it’s important to step back and assess the numbers in context.

Since 2010, the violent crime rate per 100,000 Californians has barely changed, rising from 439.3 to 443.9. Meanwhile, the property crime rate per 100,000 fell from 2,630 to 2,544.

That is after the passage and implementation of Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 36 and Proposition 47, significant criminal justice reforms that helped drive down the state prison population from about 150,000 at the start of 2010 to about 115,000 today.

A review of crime trends since 2011, the year AB 109 was passed, shows that, after an increase in 2012, crime hit all-time lows in 2013 and 2014, ticking up again in 2015 and dropping back down in 2016.

To put the 2016 crime rates in further perspective, the violent crime rate per 100,000 in 2006, when the prison population peaked at 163,000, was 535.6 and 10 years before that was 848.2, numbers which reveal how low the state’s 2016 figure of 443.9 is.

Likewise, despite all the rhetoric about Proposition 47 letting drug addicts and thieves loose to steal whatever they want, the state’s 2016 property crime rate is half or less than half of what it was in any year before 1995. It was lower in 2016 than any year in the past 50 years other than 2014, when it hit the record low of 2,459 per 100,000.

As low as crime is, you wouldn’t know it based on much of the rhetoric thrown around about California’s supposedly soft-on-crime policies.

In a video announcing his run for governor, Travis Allen asserted that “crime is on the rise in every major market” and blamed criminal justice reforms. Similarly, after the shooting of police Officer Keith Boyer, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, and Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper took the opportunity to attack Proposition 47 and AB 109. “You’re passing these propositions; you’re creating these laws that are raising crime,” said Piper.

Such assertions would be significant if they were true. But they’re not. It turns out, you don’t need to throw people in state prisons, at an annual cost of over $75,000 per inmate, for low-level theft and drug offenses.

But this apparent revelation threatens those with a vested interest in the public misperceiving levels of crime as higher than they really are.

Recently, Robert Sass, vice president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, told the Los Angeles Daily News that Proposition 47 “increases crime, and it is simply reckless.” Of course the vice president of a public safety union would say that. With crime near historic lows, it’s hard to justify current spending priorities, which remain unduly skewed toward arresting and imprisoning people, instead of preventing crime or making it possible for former offenders to reintegrate into society.

Without hysteria over crime, how else could the law enforcement lobby justify its contracts, pensions and assorted legal protections?

Despite large drops in our prison population, corrections spending is set to surpass $11.2 billion this year, up from $9.8 billion in 2011-12. Much of that is due to a lucrative contract awarded to the prison guard union, adding $441 million in costs this fiscal year alone.

Are we any safer or better off because of that? Of course not.

Unsurprisingly, the law enforcement lobby continues to oppose almost every criminal justice reform.

The group’s efforts have held up needed bail and sentencing reform efforts like SB 10 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg and SB 180 by Sen. Holly Mitchell.

The more we stick to facts, rather than self-serving myths, the safer we’ll be and the more just our justice will be.