Mayor Dave Harrington, who retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department after a nearly 29-year law enforcement career, shares his views on legislation dealing with crime in the following message:
As I write this on April 6, I am reminded of the “Newhall Incident” from this date in 1970. Four Highway Patrol Officers Walt Frago, Roger Gore, George Alleyn and James Pence were all killed by two men recently released from prison (one was on parole and both were violent career criminals). Fast forward to more recent events and Whittier Officer Keith Boyer was killed by a known gang member who had been released from jail because of AB 109 (prison realignment). This gang member had violated his parole on numerous occasions and should have been in prison. Sergeant Steve Owen of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was killed by a parolee – actually, he was executed – while responding to a call for service. Palm Springs Officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose “Gil” Vega were killed by a parolee responding to a call at his residence.
There is a painful similarity in these instances separated by four decades. These criminals should have been in prison at the time of their heinous acts. It is astonishing how quickly we forget the lessons learned from our not-so-distant past. The “Three Strikes Law” was implemented because Californians were tired of being victimized by degenerates who belonged in prison. Californians were tired of the revolving door of victimization by the same criminals repeatedly. We acted to make ourselves safer by putting the most violent, the most dangerous and, yes, the most repetitive criminals in prison. The result? Violent crime and, in fact all crime, fell dramatically. We became safer by putting criminals in prison and not letting them out.
AB 109, the so-called “Prison Realignment” law, has done a great deal to make us less safe. Criminals who should be in State Prison are instead placed in local jails. The State of California is pawning off their failure to keep up the prison infrastructure on the local level by making it easier for convicted felons to be placed on unsupervised release- they don’t have to check in and end up on the street to commit more crime. Then came Proposition 47, the horribly named Safe Schools and Safe Neighborhoods Act passed by voters, many of whom I am convinced never read the details. This proposition turned felonies into misdemeanors and further decriminalized criminal activity. The result has been the release of violent felons whose crimes were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. They’re back on the street to commit more crime with full knowledge they won’t go to prison and in many cases would receive a ticket. Fewer arrests, more crime, less safe. Proposition 57 promises more violent felons released from State Prison and more tragedy. If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. Our lawmakers must see the flaw in this law and fix the Penal Code to reflect that sexual assault of an unconscious person is an act of violence. Assaulting a Peace Officer resulting in injury is an act of violence. There are many more crimes needing reclassification and our State Legislators must address this before it’s too late.
As for Law Enforcement, we must reclaim our rightful place as public safety policy experts. There is one constant in this world… if you create a vacuum in public policy by inaction, it will be filled by some politician. The result could be an inexorable rise in crime and increasing cost for public safety.