Initiative seeks to change crime laws

Reclassify nonviolent crimes as violent

A statewide initiative to ask voters to change portions of three crime-related laws is picking up steam in Santa Clara County, and is soon expected to reach San Benito County.

Over the last week and a half, both the Morgan Hill City Council and Gilroy City Council passed support resolutions for a Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, which would change portions of voter-approved Proposition 47 and 57, as well as Assembly Bill 109, to reclassify current “nonviolent” crimes as “violent” to prevent the early release of inmates convicted of various sex and assault crimes.

The initiative also aims to reform the parole system to stop early release of violent felons, expand parolee oversight, strengthen penalties for parole violations, reform theft laws, and expand DNA collection for drug, theft, domestic violence, and other crimes. It is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association, The California District Attorney’s Association, and the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

“The bottom line is I think that if we can find ways to rehabilitate people, that is fantastic. I completely support that,” Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said Tuesday. “The idea of this [initiative] is not aimed at those people. It is aimed at those who do not choose to avail themselves of those opportunities and continue to choose a life of crime. There needs to be consequences to deal with those people.”

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco spent a few hours Saturday morning at First Street Coffee helping residents collect signatures for the new initiative, which needs 365,880 signatures by August to qualify for the November election. Over 100 signatures were gathered in two hours, he said.

Velasco said he supports the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018 because of the ill effects of Prop 47, 57, and AB 109.

“It is creating havoc in cities up and down the state,” Velasco said Tuesday. “It is impacting the quality of life of our residents. It is becoming a strain on public safety services.”

California voters approved Proposition 47 in November 2014, which reduced certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors and also required misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property, and forging or writing bad checks all to the amount of $950 or less. Prior to Prop 47, the dollar threshold for theft to be considered a felony was $450.

“If someone comes into your house and steals something from you, as long as the value is less than $950, if we caught and arrested them we would give them a citation ticket and let them go,” Smithee said. “They could come back and do the same thing and still get the same ticket. It does not matter how many times. The result is never going to be more than getting a ticket and let go again because there is no sanction for how many times something has been done. It is each a separate case.”

Former Gilroy Police Officer and current Hollister City Councilman Jim Gillio is another supporter of the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.

“Over the past several years we have had Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 that have essentially, in an administrative way, decriminalized certain crimes,” Gillio said by phone Monday. “Certain violent crimes have been lowered, so you are eligible for early release. Administratively, so you are eligible for early release is what I mean by lowered.”

California voters approved Proposition 57 in November 2016, which allowed parole consideration for nonviolent felons, authorized credit-earning opportunities for good behavior, and changed some juvenile prosecution policies.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Proposition 57 moved up parole consideration for nonviolent offenders who served the full term of a primary offense sentence and demonstrated their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence.

“The overall intent of both Prop 47 and 57 was to increase the opportunities for rehabilitation and try to minimize mass incarceration, but there were unintended consequences,” Gillio said.

The Hollister councilman is currently working with Acting Chief of Police Carlos Reynoso to have a support resolution for the new initiative placed on the next city council meeting on March 5.

“I will present it to the city council for their consideration,” Reynoso said. “If passed, all we are asking for is their support in getting this initiative on the ballot and letting the citizens of our community and the state vote on it.”

San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson, who supports the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, said he hopes to approach the San Benito County Board of Supervisors in the near future to see if they would support the initiative.

“The previous measures, Proposition 47, 57, and AB 109, are designed to reduce state prison population, they are not designed to increase public safety,” Thompson said. “Certainly some adjustments are in order to those original measures.”

Velasco said he hopes the initiative will be able to collect enough signatures to go before voters statewide in November.

“Hopefully California voters will support this proposition,” he said. “I think it will go a long way in making sure that people who should be locked up, are locked up.”

For more information on the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, visit www.keepCALsafe.org.

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