When Proposition 47 passed nearly a year ago, last November, it did so by a healthy 17-percent margin, with more than 58 percent of those casting ballots in California voting YES for The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, despite vehement opposition from the law enforcement lobby.
So were the state’s voters crazy to have voted as they did?
Certainly since Prop. 47 passed, there has been story after story in media outlets up and down the state in which officials claim that the measure is responsible for worrisome spikes in crime that compromise public safety, and that the new law also makes it nearly impossible for drug addicts now to receive court ordered treatment, among other deleterious effects.
So what is true?
This week the LA Times Editorial Board has decided to look into the claims and counterclaims, using its Opinion Page as the forum for what it hopes will be an honest and clear-eyed discussion.
We at WitnessLA applaud the Times’ refreshing move.
On Sunday, editorial board member Robert Greene kicks off the conversation by taking a hard and very welcome look at some of the actual facts of the matter.
Here’s how Greene’s Op Ed opens:
Police and prosecutors have lately attempted to link increases in crime to last year’s Proposition 47. Based on their overwrought statements, it would be understandable for Californians to start wondering whether they had been duped into completely decriminalizing drug possession and petty theft. They could be forgiven for asking whether it’s really the case that their law enforcement officers can no longer arrest thieves for stealing guns or breaking into cars, or have no option but to write tickets while watching all manner of mayhem unfold before them. They might hear that addicts have lost any incentive to choose drug treatment or to show up for court hearings.
None of those things are true, although officials in many communities throughout California appear to sincerely, although mistakenly, believe them. As is the case with all large bureaucracies, it is difficult for courts and for city and county agencies — police departments, sheriff’s departments, district attorneys, probation officers, county supervisors — to understand and constructively respond to changed circumstances. And Proposition 47 no doubt brought change, by converting six felonies to misdemeanors and allowing many people serving sentences for those crimes, and those who served their time long ago, to be resentenced and have their rap sheets adjusted.
We’d probably be better off if the various links in the public safety chain had opted to temporarily stick with their old practices following last November’s vote: if police kept arresting people for crimes reclassified as misdemeanors, and transporting suspects to jail and to court for arraignment, for example; and if prosecutors considered the circumstances (Is this the defendant’s first arrest for drug possession? The eighth?) and occasionally opted to seek the full sentence (up to a year behind bars); and if courts offered diversion or rehabilitation as an alternative — all of which not only remain available, despite assertions to the contrary, but absolutely must be used, selectively, if Proposition 47 is to work properly. They could have spent the last year examining their options and carefully and deliberately adjusting their practices so as to bring the maximum amount of public safety to the communities they patrol.
There’s lots more. So read on.