Recent Prop. 47 Study and Article Fail to Give Full Analysis on Crime in California

Police tapeMore people are leaving California than entering; so the question is why? Could it be higher than national average home prices, unfriendly family policies or could it be the possible uptick in crime? Underlying social pressures highlight the difficulty of staying in California and the continuance of progressive, Democratic voters to not look at the reality of what’s plaguing our state. But the patterns of who’s moving in, and who’s moving out, underline some of the social and economic pressure that have made California, and other coastal areas, so prohibitively expensive; but also progressively unsafe.

If you believe a recent article by Sal Rodriguez in the OC Register who quotes a study by University of California Irvine (UCI) professor of criminology, law & society, Charis Kubrin that concludes, “Prop. 47, didn’t have any significant uptick on crime,” then why are so many Californians complaining about increased crime while others are fleeing the state?

Before raising troubling aspects about this study, what does one part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, have to say about the Prop. 47 numbers? According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Crescenta Valley Station (www.CrescentaValley.LASD.org) here are the facts about Prop. 47:

“Following the implementation of AB 109 & Prop. 47, communities across California have experienced increases in property related crimes. An 8.1% increases across the State and a 10% increase in LA County.”

So whom do you believe – Professor Kubrin and Sal Rodriguez – or the men and women who do actual law enforcement? What Professor Kubrin doesn’t point out is how Prop. 47 downgraded serious crimes such as “drug possession, repeated shoplifting, forging checks, gun theft and possession of date-rape drugs,” which were all felonies before Prop. 47’s passage. The Sheriff’s Department also states:

“A criminal can engage in recurring theft activity as long as the value of what is stolen during each theft is less than $950. Illegal drugs – including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine – have been reclassified as a misdemeanor.”

Professor Kubrin and Mr. Rodriguez – neither one – asked, studied or considered why homelessness is on the rise in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County in general though voters and Democratic elected officials have attempted to address this growing issue. Drive through downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica or San Francisco and witness the amount of strung-out homeless to belie the fact that higher dollar amounts for felonies means what once landed an addict into drug rehabilitation programs now puts them back onto the streets to the detriment of the individual, businesses, neighborhood safety and communities-at-large.

Furthermore, what the UCI study doesn’t take into affect is how Prop. 57 (the ‘Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act’) and Assembly Bill 109 (released 45,000 felons from California prisons) were passed simultaneously in 2016. To study one without factoring in the other is biased, negligent and misleading. Mr. Rodriguez and Professor Kubrin, who authored the study, should have known better, also this was nothing more than an agenda-driven piece to appeal to a lowest common denominator that will assist more Democrats being elected in 2018.

Take Prop. 57, according to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop. 57:

“Allows the State to release 30,000 criminals convicted of ‘non-violent,’ felonies and classifies these crimes as non-violent: rape by intoxication, rape of unconscious person, human trafficking involving sex act with minors, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, hate crimes causing physical injury, and corporal injury to a child.”

Mr. Rodriguez didn’t report this and Professor Kubrin didn’t add Prop. 57 or AB 109 into her study. Shoddy research is what can be taken away from her study by not including these official reclassifying of crimes that were once felonies. Now add AB 109, which requires local jails –that don’t have the money, resources or ability – to house violent felons and what takes place is tens of thousands of supposedly low-level convicted felons back on the street; but this wasn’t added into her study or Mr. Rodriguez’s article as well. AB 109 has now taken criminals with serious felony violations and placed them in local jails instead of state prisons.

Disgust though lies at the feet of Professor Kubrin’s misleading and faulty research methods. First when you click on the actual study on the UCI website you are only given a Fact Sheet whose graphs are barely readable without being defined, definitions not put into context with Prop. 47, and most importantly on this “Fact Sheet,” how independent and dependent variables are calculated. As someone who has done studies, regressions and econometrics there is nothing of the sort in Professor Kubrin’s study.

She then states and Mr. Rodriguez blithely reports on a variable defined as “synthetic California,” that is part of the “Synthetic Control Group Study Design,” which reminds me of graduate and undergraduate studies and degree in economics where microeconomics is defined as having, “perfect competition.” Anyone who has ever held a job or attempted a business in the marketplace knows there is no such thing as “perfect competition,” just as there isn’t such a concept as “synthetic California.” And when you read the Fact Sheet the reader will find the study isn’t completed so that makes Mr. Rodriguez’s reporting misleading at best and a fire able offense at worst for so grossly understating the problems as public record.

Understanding regressions is very important, because Professor Kubrin states there was no causation or even correlation when she either doesn’t know what she’s doing running regressions or isn’t telling the truth on purpose. Regressions are used in econometrics and statistical analysis and goes back to high school geometry using the formula Y=mx+b where Y is the dependent variable and mx+b are the independent variables that either move the Y variable (causation) or merely cause them to move together along a regression line (correlation). If Professor Kubrin, Mr. Rodriguez and the entire UCI department of criminology, law & society doesn’t include AB 109 and Prop. 57 into their regressions or econometric studies then it doesn’t pass confidence interval levels. A fancy, boring regression term for how something has to be at least true 90% of the time to even warrant mentioning; and then it scales up to 95% and 99%.

To say Prop. 47 doesn’t show causation is irresponsible and she should be demoted or be made to take a graduate level econometrics and statistics for public policy analysis course. I took both and Professor Kubrin is doing the level of work that would get her kicked out of class, graduate school or possibly brought up on charges of plagiarism for gross academic violations.

Run the regressions, report on the economic analysis; and more importantly factor into the study and regressions the affects of felonious crimes going from $250 up to $950 as a variable and watch the causation affects of Prop. 47 coupled with AB 109 and Prop. 57 move upwards on the regression line into the 99% confidence interval level is what I’d predict. This is why people don’t trust universities and academics such as Drs. Victor Davis Hanson and Walter Williams believe most colleges outside of the hard sciences (accounting, engineering and medicine) have lost their way. Professor Kubrin proves that’s the case and Mr. Rodriguez shows bush league reporting without checking his sources. Next time, before reporting something, make sure the study has actually been published and more recent data was used for the study and article. Laughingly, the data used by UCI, Professor Kubrin and Mr. Rodriguez came from 2015. California should trust the L.A. County Sheriff Department over this worthless study.

Todd Royal is a geopolitical risk and energy consultant based in Los Angeles.

Prop. 57: Judicial Depravity in California

Police tapeIn November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act. Championed by Governor Jerry Brown, the measure expanded parole possibilities for nonviolent offenders and barred prosecutors from filing juvenile cases in adult court. Last month, California’s Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 57 could be applied retroactively. On those grounds, California’s Third Court of Appeals “conditionally reversed” the conviction of one of the most violent criminals in state history and expanded his prospects for early release.

Daniel Marsh was just 15 on April 14, 2013, when he broke into the Davis home of 87-year-old Oliver “Chip” Northup, an attorney and popular bluegrass musician, and his 76-year-old wife, Claudia Maupin, a pastoral associate at the Davis Unitarian Church, where the couple met. A police report said that the two were killed “in a way that manifested exceptional depravity,” which was no exaggeration. The autopsy report runs 16 pages and 6,658 words, noting that the murderer stabbed Maupin 67 times and Northup 61 times. Marsh disemboweled both victims; he placed a cell phone inside the corpse of Maupin and a drinking glass inside Northup.

In his lengthy interview with police, Marsh said that Maupin told him to “please stop.” Marsh kept on stabbing because “she just wouldn’t die.” The stabbing “just felt right,” and the double murder and mutilations, Marsh said, “felt amazing,” gave him “pure happiness,” and “the most exhilarating enjoyable feeling I’ve ever felt.” He inserted the phone and glass to throw investigators off track, and when police accused him of the murders, his first response was “I’m a kid.” Marsh’s public defender sought to have the confession tossed, but Judge David Reed rejected that bid. Marsh then offered an insanity defense, bringing in expert witness James Merikangas, a psychologist and neurologist, who claimed that Marsh was in a “dissociative state” when he killed.

Prosecutors Michael Cabral and Amanda Zambor made the case that Marsh was sane at the time of the murders; a Yolo County jury agreed, and in December 2014, Judge David Reed sentenced Marsh to 52 years to life in state prison. The killer received an additional year for use of a knife, but got no extra time for lying in wait or committing torture. The double murderer, now 20, would be eligible for parole after 25 years, when he would be in his early forties.

On February 1, 2018, the California Supreme Court addressed the case of Pablo Lara, a juvenile charged with kidnapping and raping a seven-year-old girl. The court ruled that Proposition 57 “applies retroactively,” because “the possibility of being treated as a juvenile in juvenile court — where rehabilitation is the goal — rather than being tried and sentenced as an adult can result in dramatically different and more lenient treatment.” Proposition 57 “reduces the possible punishment for a class of persons, namely juveniles,” and therefore, the court ruled, Proposition 57 “applies to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time it was enacted.”

On February 22, the Third Court of Appeals ruled that the case of Daniel Marsh “was not fully briefed until July 2017.” Therefore, “this initiative applies retroactively to defendant’s pending appeal, and that we must conditionally reverse for proceeding in juvenile court.” So all that painstaking work by Cabral and Zambor has been set aside by a three-judge panel headed by Kathleen Butz, an appointee of Governor Gray Davis. Also on the panel was Jerry Brown appointee Cole Blease, former attorney for the California Teachers Association. The appeal ruling does not name Northup and Maupin, the victims of the savage and pointless murder.

A proceeding will determine if Marsh was indeed suitable for trial in adult court. If so, the court will restore Marsh’s conviction for the two murders. If not, he will be re-sentenced as a juvenile and face a maximum punishment of incarceration until age 25. Whatever one chooses to call it, the proceeding is clearly a new trial for a sadist who has never shown the slightest remorse for his savage actions. In 2014, when the court declined to toss Marsh’s detailed confession, Maupin’s daughter Victoria Hurd said that the decision “restores faith in humanity in the midst of this depravity.” In 2018, when Hurd got word of the reversal, she told the Sacramento Bee: “This is so wrong. It’s come barreling back into our presence.”

Marsh is not the only shut-and-open case in the Proposition 57 pipeline. According to California’s attorney general, there were 71,923 juvenile arrests in 2015, 29.7 percent of which were for felonies. Five hundred and sixty-six juveniles were tried in adult court, and 88 percent were convicted. YOUNG MAN CONVICTED IN 2014 MURDER WANTS NEW TRIAL AFTER PROP. 57 PASSES, read a headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune about Kurese Bell, convicted of murder at age 17. PROP. 57 COULD TURN BACK TIME FOR MINORS CHARGED WITH MURDER, the Lompoc Record announced.

As with the case of Daniel Marsh, these judicial reconsiderations will have nothing to do with potentially exculpatory evidence or errors in trial; they are politically and ideologically driven attempts to overturn legal and proper verdicts. Relatives of Claudia Maupin, Oliver Northup, or other victims have good reason to see these efforts as perverse, even depraved.

Innovative Incarceration Could Result in Lower Costs and Safer Citizens


PrisonThe average annual cost to house a prisoner in California is $71,000, and according to the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the cost has risen 45% since just 2011. And as costs have soared, California’s policymakers have resorted to creative ways to release inmates from California’s overcrowded prisons. But what if that Californian creativity could be harnessed to lower the cost of incarceration?

This process began in 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must reduce its state prison population to no more than 137% of its design capacity within two years. In an attempt to comply, the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 109, which required non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders with sentences of longer than one year to be housed in county jail facilities rather than state prisons.

Because AB109, the so-called prison “realignment,” merely shifted costs for incarceration from the state to the counties, two additional measures of significance were passed in an attempt to reduce the overall inmate population. These were sold to voters as reform initiatives, and both of them passed with substantial majorities. Prop. 47, passed in 2014, reclassified several felonies as misdemeanors, which had the effect of reducing prison sentences in new cases, and earlier release for prisoners sentenced for crimes no longer classified as felonies. Prop. 57, passed in 2016, granted early release opportunities to inmates with good behavior who had committed non-violent crimes.

These measures resulted in the early release of tens of thousands of inmates onto California’s streets. Since enactment, violent crime has increased in California, although the data is mixed. For example, according to the FBI, while violent crime in California increased in 2015 and 2016, it increased across most of the U.S. in those years. As stated in a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California, “California’s violent crime rate increased by 3.7% in 2016 to 444 per 100,000 residents. There have been other recent upticks in 2012 and 2015, but the statewide rate is still comparable to levels in the late 1960s.”

More recently – most crime statistics for 2017 are not yet available – the L.A. Times reports that in 2017 “in Los Angeles, homicides are down, but violent crime is up.” A big picture perspective on crime trends in California can be seen in this graphic produced by Politifact.com using data from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office:

California Crime Trends – Crime Rates per 100,000 Residents

California Crime Trends

As can be seen, rates of crime in California rose throughout the 60s and 70s, reaching a high plateau that lasted right up until around 1994, when California passed the three strikes law. After that, crime rates fell precipitously for years, reaching historic lows. Since 2014, rates of crime have been rising, even though they remain relatively low from a historical perspective.

But why should we be happy with a 0.4% rate of violent crime? Why should 4% of Californians be victimized by a violent criminal in any given decade? And who’s to say that crime rates would not have continued to decline, if it weren’t for the passage of Props. 47 and 57?

More to the point, whether or not Californians should or should not incarcerate more criminals, or impose longer sentences on criminals, Californians don’t have that option. Because it costs too much to house prisoners in California. How can California house more inmates without building more conventional prisons, which are staggeringly expensive?

An excellent resource prepared by BackgroundChecks.org shows the costs per prisoner in other states. Nevada, our neighbor to the east, only spends $17,851 per year per prisoner. Alabama has the lowest cost, at $14,780 per prisoner. Arizona, $25,397. Even Oregon and Washington, California’s left coast comrades in bloated inefficient government excess, manage to spend far less than California does, paying per prisoner costs of $44,021 and $37,841, respectively.

Why?

When you read up on costs per prisoner in other states, the results are somewhat amusing. Because in those states, the conventional wisdom is that costs are out of control. Alabama’s costs per prisoner have “doubled since 2003.” In Nevada, “overtime costs continue to mount.” Imagine that. But in all states, the same factors contribute to rising costs to house prisoners. California just spends more, in every category. Here is a table from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office showing details of the cost per prisoner.

California’s Costs per Prisoner – Itemized Costs

Costs per prisoner

It’s likely these costs are understated. Does “Security” include the additional amounts that will be necessary to properly fund the pensions that are due our correctional officers? Does “Facility Operations” include the payments on the billions that have been borrowed by the state to construct California’s 34 state prisons?

In the recently approved California state budget for 2017-18, $11.4 billion is allocated to the Department of Corrections, up another $286 million (2.6%) from last year. But again, this doesn’t begin to represent the true cost to taxpayers. A recent UCLA study estimated the cost of incarceration for just the County of Los Angeles at nearly $1.0 billion last year.

It’s likely the total cost to California’s taxpayers to incarcerate criminals – taking into account state and local expenses – is easily twice the $11.4 billion budgeted by the state. And these inflated costs can be attributed to two causes. First, the excessive costs caused by unionized government – pensions in particular, and excessive costs to build state prisons, caused by a union controlled state legislature requiring needlessly expensive project labor agreements. Second, and arguably even more significant, the overall excessive cost-of-living in California – also a byproduct of policies enacted by California’s union controlled state legislature – which makes everything more expensive.

The burden of realignment – foisting responsibility for state prisoners back onto the counties where they were convicted – is also an opportunity. Because counties, like states in our federal system, are laboratories of democracy, laboratories of policy. Why can’t California’s counties experiment with new modes of incarceration. If inmates are sequestered to Cal Fire to work the fire lines, why can’t they do other tasks throughout the rural regions of California? Why not use inmates to improve rural access roads, remove dead trees from our drought-stressed forests, or even work in agriculture?

While many inmates may be too dangerous to do this sort of work, with new technologies to monitor and control prisoners, it is possible that prisoners who would not be viable candidates for these programs in the past would be qualified today. Electronic monitoring devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Why not use these devices to monitor not only location, but heart rate or, who knows, even brain waves or other physical indicators of imminent fight or flight? Wouldn’t adding additional capabilities to these devices allow more effective means to deter escape and even prevent violence? Why not use swarms of inexpensive drones to hover in the vicinity of inmates, reducing the number of guards required, and replacing some or all layers of expensive security fencing? Why not equip these drones with nonlethal means to prevent escape or violence?

Law enforcement has stayed abreast of new technologies and that is one of the reasons rates of crime are down sharply across America. While the impact of new technologies must be constantly scrutinized, and some of them may be problematic, there is no reason not to extend these tools beyond law enforcement into the corrections industry. It’s reasonable to assume most inmates would prefer a virtual prison to the penitentiary. One that afforded them mobility, equal or greater safety, a mission, a chance to engage in a vocation, and fresh air. Such innovation might also bring welcome relief to taxpayers.

Trying – and failing – to explain away California’s high crime rate

california-prisonsImagine the reaction if, after a loan officer told an applicant they would not receive a loan because of too much debt, the applicant asked “How about we just disregard 25% of my debt?”

As illogical as this sounds, it was the approach recently articulated by a group seeking to downplay the crime rate increases in California following various criminal justice “reforms.”  In a study picked up by a few newspapers, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJJ) opined that the crime rate statewide in California decreased following these reforms – if you excluded Los Angeles County.  Yes, Los Angeles County, where more than one out of four residents of California reside!

The propaganda espoused by proponents of these various reform measures is that crime is not really rising very much so long as it isn’t as bad as it was 30 years ago. They continue that trend with their attempt to manipulate the statewide crime rate increase by excluding more than 25% of the population.

Contrary to the line peddled by CJJ, the violent crime rate in California per 100,000 has risen since the passage of AB 109.  AB 109 was enacted in October, 2011, a year when the violent crime rate in California was 413.3 per 100,000.  In 2016, the violent crime rate in California was 443.9 — an increase of more than 7% over the 2011 violent crime rate.

Likewise noteworthy is the increase in the property crime rate since the 2014 passage of Prop 47 which reduced multiple theft offenses to inconsequential misdemeanors.  The property crime rate in California increased in both 2015 and 2016 from the property crime rate in 2014, years in which the rest of the United States marked two more years of a continuation of a 14-year decrease in property crime rates.  Further, prior to Prop 47, California had seen three straight years of property crime rate decreases.

The ADDA has joined crime victims, law enforcement, business owners and public safety leaders working to pass the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.”  This initiative will address some of the serious flaws brought on by “criminal justice reform.”  Learn more about “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” at www.KeepCaliforniaSafe.org

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Meet Some Prop. 57 Early Release Inmates

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

We extensively chronicled how the Prop. 57 campaign was sold on the lie that only “non-violent” criminals would be released early from their lawfully imposed state prison terms. The decision on who gets the early release is now in the hands of the Board of Parole, whose release decisions show an appalling disregard of fact and reality. Some examples of these early release decisions are highlighted below.

Paul Karl Anderson — With a criminal history that begins in 1981, and included felony convictions for assault and thefts, Anderson upped the ante in 1995 when he robbed a bank with a weapon and then held a hostage upon being tracked down by federal marshals.  The Board of Parole granted early release from the sentence imposed for his bank robbery/hostage taking because they determined Anderson does not “pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Rodney Hansen — This inmate’s current prison stint results from a conviction for threatening his ex-girlfriend by tossing a knife at her feet, then threatening to kill both himself and her. Prior convictions since 2007 included possession of a firearm and residential burglary. Nonetheless, the Board of Parole found this inmate should be released early because he does not “pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Recole Mitchell — Mitchell was sent to prison for convictions of possession of a loaded firearm in 2016, and threatening to kill his mother in 2015. Despite a lengthy criminal history that begins in 2003 and included two separate convictions for carrying a loaded firearm, the Board of Parole granted Mitchell an early release because they decided Mitchell does not”pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Paul Silvas — Sentenced to prison in 2015 for stabbing the family dog to death, Silvas had a prior history of violence as evidenced by his 2008 conviction for assault with a firearm. While he incurred five disciplinary actions since being sent to prison, the Board of Parole found that Silvas “shows compliance with institutional rules” and released him early on the grounds that he does not”pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Governor Brown promised the public that only non-violent offenders would be released under Prop. 57. A bank robber/hostage taker, a gun-toting felon who threatened to kill his mother, a knife-wielding felon who threatened to kill his girlfriend, and a dog killer are probably not who the public expected back into their communities. But the public need not fret. After all, the Board of Parole has determined that none of them pose “an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

The ADDA has joined crime victims, law enforcement, business owners and public safety leaders working to pass the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.” We will soon be circulating petitions to put on the ballot the measure that will:

  • Reclassify currently “non-violent” crimes like rape of an unconscious person, sex trafficking of a child under 14, and other serious crimes as “violent” – to prevent the early release of inmates convicted of these crimes
  • Reform the parole system to stop the early release of violent felons, expand parolee oversight, and strengthen penalties for parole violations
  • Reform theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves and organized theft gangs
  • Expand DNA collection to some low level convictions in order to solve violent crimes like rape and murder-and to exonerate those wrongly accused
  • Learn more about “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” at www.KeepCaliforniaSafe.org.

resident of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Bay Area Takes Police-State Approach to Tobacco

 

Could high taxes and crime push California voters to a tipping point?

VotingDespite changing demographics and a sharp veer to the ideological left, is it possible that California could take a political trip back to the future as two staples resurface that drove the state’s politics in the more conservative 1980s and 1990s? Look around and you’ll see indications that even in this liberal bastion on the left coast, the issues of taxes and crime are stirring again.

From the time when cinema’s Doc Brown (Dr. Emmett L. Brown, ably played by Christopher Lloyd) was sending his flux-capacitor equipped DeLorean back in time to today’s California run by Jerry Brown — a past-and-future character if there ever was one — attitudes on the issues of taxes and crime seemed to have shifted dramatically.

Considering recent evidence, one might think that the tax issue has faded from the conscience of Californians, most of whom were not around when the state’s voters kicked off a national tax revolt that helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency by overwhelmingly passing property tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978.

In a Wall Street Journal piece from a year ago leading up to the 2016 election, I asked, “Nearly 40 years later, many Californians are wondering: Will the tax revolt mind-set die where it all began?”

After all a measure on the 2016 ballot (Proposition 55) extended the highest-in-the nation income tax that voters put in place just four years previously; a cigarette tax passed, as did many local taxes and bonds.

This year’s legislative session included a gas tax increase, the cap-and-trade extension, which many call a tax increase because it raises revenue for the government to spend, and a document tax to fund housing issues. This legislative session probably produced the most pro-tax successes since the 1935 legislature created both a state income tax and a vehicle license fee.

Yet all this tax activity may be driving voters to a tipping point to say enough!

The first indication is the California electorate’s sour reaction to the gas tax. In a University of California Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted after the gas tax increase became law, 58 percent opposed the gas tax, 39 percent solidly opposed. The twelve-cent a gallon tax will not even be collected until November. The negative reaction to the tax seen in the poll likely would increase once the tax adds to the price of gasoline at the pump.

The test of new California resistance to taxes could well occur in November 2018. Two measures to repeal the tax have been filed. A gas tax repeal measure could rally Republican voters to the polls during the general election, especially if no Republican makes the runoff for either of the state’s high-profile offices, governor and United States senator. Since the state’s Republican Party is said to be behind one of the repeal initiative proposals,  polling shows that this is a powerful issue among voters. In addition a Southern California state senator, Democrat Josh Newman, is facing a recall effort centered on his gas tax vote.

The heated debate over extending cap andtrade to reduce greenhouse gases centered on the additional costs that would be felt by California consumers. The word “tax” would have dominated were a word cloud image created over word use frequency during the cap-and-trade debate. Increased costs generated by cap-and-trade demands were labeled a hidden tax.

California citizens have yet to feel the additional costs that the cap-and-trade measure might add—anywhere from fifteen- to seventy-three-cents per gallon of gasoline over time, according to the state’s legislative analyst.

If the gas tax repeal makes the ballot, an interesting political dynamic will play out in defense of the tax. A campaign to preserve the tax would likely have the greatest financial support. The tax was supported by both labor and big business. They argued that California’s economy depends on improved transportation and updated roads and highways. Business also supported the cap-and-trade bill, fearing if it were defeated an unelected California Air Resources Board would put a tougher, command-and-control greenhouse gas restriction in place.

The individual voter who pays the freight of the gas tax increase, additional car fees, and increased costs linked to the cap-and-trade law, however, may want to use the gas tax repeal initiative to send a message.

A rejection of the gas tax increase would certainly be a marker that as liberal as Californians have become, there is still a conservative streak when it comes to taxes and a potent issue from the past could return.

Meanwhile there is the issue of crime—like taxes, also on the rise. A backlash is stirring to changes backed by criminal reform efforts in the legislature and on the ballot.

In response to a court order to reduce prison populations, Governor Jerry Brown championed AB 109 in 2011. Under so-called realignment, certain low-level offenders were moved to county jails from state prisons. In many instances, overwhelmed local jailers were forced to release prisoners from their jails to make room.

Along came two ballot measures, Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016, that downgraded a number of felonies to misdemeanors and fast-tracked the parole process for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Efforts to reform the justice system and reduce prison overcrowding prompted the law changes. Voters are sympathetic to efforts allowing prisoners to achieve rehabilitation. Voters passed both ballot initiatives despite major opposition from the public safety community.

The combination of laws, however, has the law enforcement community warning of a rise in crime with little ability to curb it. Property thefts, forgeries, frauds, illegal drug use, and more under $950 are labeled a consequence-free crime because few arrested for such crimes serve any time, and perpetrators are aware of the situation.

According to a release from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, “Prop 47 has created a criminal culture where criminals know they face little, or far lesser, punishment for their crimes. Following the passage of AB 109, nearly 25 percent of jail space that could house criminals serving local sentences for property or violent crime is now occupied by those shifted from state prison to local jails to serve their time.”

Law enforcement officials reveal increases in crime as a result of the new laws, but it is the consequences on the street and in people’s lives that have changed the tone of the conversation. If you’re not convinced, take a look at neighborhood websites with constant chatter about break-ins and suspicious activity and how to set up alarm systems and security cameras.

In Sacramento a growing number of neighborhoods fed up with petty crime pooled money to hire private security for public streets. In the inland empire, vehicle thefts jumped from ninth in the nation to fifth in just one year. In the west San Fernando Valley, gang activity has increased 63 percent in two years. A number of California cities are joining in an effort called Taking Back Our Community, a coalition of local governments dedicated to public education and community advocacy surrounding the unintended adverse public safety impacts of recent changes to California’s criminal law.

This surge of activity recalls another time in California history when crime became a major policy and political issue. As noted California historian Kevin Starr wrote in his book, Coast of Dreams, California on the Edge, 1990–2003: “In 1980, California had fewer than 25,000 inmates in a dozen prisons. By January 1998 there were some 154,000 prisoners in 33 prisons.” Californians elected two governors in succession who were tough on crime. Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson occupied the corner office in the capitol for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

In his first inaugural address in 1983, Deukmejian said, “All the prosperity in the world will not make our society better if our people are threatened by crime. Therefore, it will be the highest priority during my administration to provide all the leadership I can to make California safe again.”

Wilson’s 1994 State of the State Address was one of many to pinpoint the crime issue. He called for get-tough measures against dangerous felons and repeat criminals. He also called for bills that would put three-repeat felons behind bars for good.

The legislature responded by passing a three-strikes law in March, but the people did them one better supporting a three-strikes ballot measure (Proposition 184) in November 1994 that received nearly 72 percent of the vote.

But the crime pendulum shifted with Propositions 47 and 57.

In a Sacramento Bee op-ed published a month before the November 2016 election in hopes of stopping Prop 57, which Wilson argued gutted the three-strikes law, he wrote, “The three-strikes initiative approved in 1994 and other sensible crime- control laws prevented millions of Californians from becoming crime victims. It would be gross dereliction of duty to discard laws that have provided us protection of such proven effectiveness.”

This time he was not as persuasive.

But now that the effects of the crime reform initiatives and state laws are being tallied, that pendulum may be moving back again. Will state politics follow?

Certainly California is in a different place today than three and four decades ago, but growing unease can be detected about the tax and crime issues that dominated politics in that era.

Let’s just say that Jerry Brown, rather than Doc Brown, would recognize the modern social-media terminology associated with the taxes and crime in California.

They’re trending.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Originally published in EUREKA, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution’s online magazine.

Should the LAPD use drones?

As reported by the L.A. Times:

For more than three years, a pair of drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department was locked away, collecting dust after a public outcry over the idea of police using the controversial technology.

Seattle police saw a similar backlash when they wanted to use the devices, grounding their drone program before it even took off. And recently, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of a drone has been criticized by activists as well as civilian oversight commissioners who want the agency to stop.

On Tuesday, the LAPD again waded into the heated debate, saying the department wanted to test the use of drones in a one-year pilot program.

Drones have been hailed by law enforcement across the country as a valuable technology that could help find missing hikers or monitor armed suspects without jeopardizing the safety of officers. But efforts to deploy the unmanned aircraft have frequently drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates or police critics for whom the devices stir Orwellian visions of inappropriate — or illegal — surveillance and fears of military-grade, weaponized drones patrolling the skies. …

Click here to read the full story

Sacramento and S.F. Push for Police Reform at Local Level

Police tapeSACRAMENTO – The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as “law and order” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect’s expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama’s Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level.

Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments – the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows “the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times.” One officer is recorded saying “f— this guy” shortly before they shot him.

The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city’s willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials – the police chief, city attorney and city manager – didn’t release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife – and council debate – ever since.

In September, the newspaper’s Editorial Board published this pointed editorial: “The city could have been upfront with Mann’s family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven’t responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department’s policy.”

Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council – thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters.

The city’s proposal also does the following: “This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting.” That attempts to deal with the public-records issue.

Civilian-oversight commissions are still limited by the state Supreme Court’s Copley decision. In that 2006 case, the San Diego Union-Tribune tried to gain access to a disciplinary hearing regarding a deputy sheriff who was appealing his termination. As the newspaper reported, “The court ruled that police disciplinary hearings are closed — and the public has no right to learn about allegations of police misconduct, even when they are aired in a civil service commission.” Legislative efforts to roll back parts of the decision have repeatedly been stymied by police union lobbying.

In San Francisco, officials have been reacting to controversy following three officer-involved shootings and a scandal involving racist text messages that were allegedly sent by police officers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in April, “The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. ‘Is that a Ferguson turkey?’ the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014.”

National politics plays a bigger role in the San Francisco case. That’s because the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services department published a study last month looking at San Francisco’s police department. The mayor and former police chief had asked the department to review police practices following these scandals.

As the report’s summary explained, “Although the COPS Office found a department that is committed to making changes and working with the community, it also found a department with outdated use of force policies that fail the officers and the community and inadequate data collection that prevents leadership from understanding officer activities and ensure organizational accountability. The department lacked accountability measures to ensure that the department is being open and transparent while holding officers accountable.”

San Francisco officials have vowed to implement the 479 recommendations made in the Justice Department report. “We will continue to implement the recommendations for reform which will be built on the most current policing policies and practices, fostering an environment of trust and strong relationships with our communities,” said acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin.

In Sacramento, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is inaugurated on Dec. 13, told the Bee “the public certainly has a right to know whether a particular officer who has been accused of misconduct continues to serve in the role of police officer. … There ought to be a clear presumption of openness and the burden ought to be on the city attorney and police to demonstrate in a compelling way why anything is not public.” There’s concern that a federal lawsuit by Mann’s relatives will allow the city to shut down public access to information about the shooting.

This much is clear: Whatever changes a new administration makes at the Department of Justice, local officials throughout California are on the front lines of the police-reform movement.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Competing Death Penalty Measures Revive Emotional Feud

Death PenaltySACRAMENTO – Thirty years ago, California voters did something unprecedented (and not seen since): They bounced Chief Justice Rose Bird from the supreme court. Two other state high-court justices also failed to win reconfirmation to the court, following an intense political battle centering on the justices’ opposition to the death penalty.

It was easy for many people to understand the emotional nature of the issue during mid-1980s. Crime rates had soared by 276 percent over a 20-year period. They had begun to fall again in the late 1980s, but political angst often trails the data. Justice Bird rejected the death penalty in all 64 such cases that came before her and so became a lightning rod for those upset over crime. Crime rates crept up again in the early 1990s, but have been falling precipitously since.

Now, there’s been a recent spike in crime, and a debate over the role some recent incarceration policies have played in that uptick. For instance, some blame Proposition 47, the 2014 voter initiative that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors, and the governor’s realignment policy, which houses some prison inmates in county jails. Others say the data doesn’t back up those claims, and that crime rates ebb and flow for various reasons.

Whatever the case, crime rates remain relatively low – and the crime issue doesn’t come close to generating the emotions it did during the Rose Bird controversy. Nevertheless, voters on Nov. 8 are being asked to revisit the death-penalty issue in two competing initiatives. It’s a crowded ballot, with 17 initiatives overall, which explains in part why these measures have not garnered much attention. But they offer Californians two starkly different choices.

In Proposition 62, voters are being asked whether to repeal the death penalty for those found guilty of murder and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. In Proposition 66, voters are asked whether to streamline the appeals process to make it easier for the state to execute convicted murderers. When initiatives are contradictory, the one that receives the highest votes prevails. An interesting showdown is in the works.

Ironically, Prop. 62 would put an end to executions that rarely happen anyway. The last execution in California took place a decade ago – all executions have been delayed because of legal challenges to the use of lethal injections. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office puts the numbers in perspective: “As of April 2016, of the 930 individuals who received a death sentence since 1978, 15 have been executed, 103 have died prior to being executed, 64 have had their sentences reduced by the courts, and 748 are in state prison with death sentences.”

Those realities actually bolster the case made by the supporters of both initiatives. Backers of Prop. 62 argue that the state’s death penalty is a failed system because so few people are actually executed. The cost per execution, they argue, is $384 million as they languish on costly death rows. Instead of endless delays, they propose doing away with the penalty – something supporters say will provide “real closure” for families of victims. Instead of fighting in courts, convicted murderers will have a permanent sentence and will never be allowed to go free.

Backers of Prop. 66 say the solution to the lack of executions is to speed up the appeals process. “There are nearly 2,000 murders in California annually,” according to supporters’ official ballot argument. “Only about 15 death penalty sentences are imposed. But when these horrible crimes occur, and a jury unanimously recommends death, the appeals should be heard within five years, and the killer executed.” Both initiatives require these inmates to work.

Opponents of Prop. 66 raise concerns that speeding up the appeals process will cause innocents to potentially be executed, whereas supporters argue that their initiative will allow plenty of time to assure that innocent people aren’t executed. This proposition attempts to speed up the process by requiring “that habeas corpus petitions first be heard in the trial courts,” according to the LAO analysis. It also “places time limits on legal challenges to death sentences” and “changes the process for appointing attorneys to represent condemned inmates.”

The San Francisco Chronicle raises concerns about the attorney appointment process in the initiative: “Condemned inmates often must wait years for representation. The measure attempts to compel attorneys to take up capital appeals by excluding them from certain other defense work. This raises two serious concerns: One is the prospect that attorneys less steeped in the fine points of capital appeals — and it is a specialized part of the law — will be representing inmates with lives on the line. The other is the possibility of attorneys enlisted against their free will in these appeals.”

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, argued that “Defense attorneys refuse to represent death row inmates in order to thwart the process, so it takes an average of five years before a condemned inmate is even assigned an attorney.”

Proposition 62 is more straightforward than Proposition 66. The former ends the death penalty – even for those currently on death row – and replaces it with “life without parole.” The latter includes a series of complex reforms designed to “mend” the current system. For voters, however, the choice will come down less to the specific details and more to their overall outlook. If they want to end the death penalty, they’ll vote yes on 62. If they want to speed up its use, they’ll back 66.

A recent public-opinion poll from Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research showed Proposition 62 losing 45-37 and Proposition 66 winning 51 to 20. So while the level of contentiousness over the death penalty is far different now than it was in 1986, it seems that public attitudes about it haven’t changed much in 30 years.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com