Last year, California voters passed Proposition 47, which mandate downgrades of certain drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It also requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less. Qualified defendants who have served their time for, and are off probation or parole, may apply to be resentenced for a misdemeanor. Defendants currently serving time or on probation can also apply, and may be entitled to release.

Prop. 47 also included language promising that the state and county savings in the “high hundreds of millions of dollars annually” from reduced incarceration costs would be spent on “school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.”

The allure of Prop. 47, when tidily packaged in this manner, is understandable because it seemingly offered a fiscally balanced and rehabilitative approach to the very real issue of an escalating prison population and the costs of housing inmates. Approximately one year into its implementation – with more than 3,700 inmates processed for reduced sentences and released from state prison – the full ramifications of Prop. 47 are coming into focus, and none of them bodes well for the safety and security of our communities. While Prop. 47 has reduced the prison population, it has also had some far-reaching and major unintended consequences that, ironically, reduce the prospects for rehabilitative treatments and undermine the effectiveness of proven crime-fighting tactics.

Under California law, law enforcement agencies are permitted to take DNA samples only from felony suspects. With the implementation of Prop. 47, the DNA collected for a felony crime – now reduced to a misdemeanor – could be destroyed or set aside. In the event that the DNA is not destroyed and does show up as a match for a subsequent crime, the legality of using this DNA would certainly come into question. Based on the number of prospective offenders who qualify for a crime reduction, the number of DNA samples that go untested and/or destroyed could run into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. Any one of these could be a match for a murder or rape case, but because of Prop. 47, the DNA match may never happen.

The mental health and drug treatment aspect of Prop. 47 has also resulted in a surprising twist: Offender participation in rehabilitative mental health and drug programs is down throughout the state. Los Angeles County has seen a 60 percent decrease in its rehabilitative drug programs. San Diego County reports that its role in rehabilitative drug programs is down. It doesn’t take much to see why: By reducing a drug offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, Prop. 47 has removed the incentive for a drug offender to enter into an 18-month drug treatment program when the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor drug offense is six months or even less. This is not about possession and use of marijuana, but drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine, for which treatment is a critical component of recovery.

Another major repercussion of Prop. 47 is the fact that offenders who possess “date rape” drugs – commonly used to sexually assault women – can now only be charged with a misdemeanor, which means that their DNA can’t be collected. Law enforcement has lost a valuable tool in our fight against sexual violence.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Prop. 47 came on the heels of another major law enforcement initiative, realignment, which dramatically shifted responsibility from the state to the counties for tens of thousands of offenders. As a result, the safety and health care concerns previously evident in state prisons are now being seen in county jails. Interestingly enough, a preliminary study by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors suggested that Prop. 47 is actually working in a counterproductive manner to the objectives of realignment: The jail space that was being occupied by those drug-related offenders, who are now free is allowing realignment prisoners to serve a larger percentage of their sentence. Despite its shortcomings, realignment did provide for funding of the increased health care and monitoring costs incurred by local law enforcement. Other than a vague directive for the state to evaluate any savings in 2016, Prop. 47 contains no specific funding provisions, effectively making the rehabilitation/social services components of Prop. 47 an unfunded mandate. As a result, local governments have to deal with an increased drug dependent population, many of whom suffer with underlying mental health issues.

Most in law enforcement understand that incarceration alone is neither an effective nor cost-beneficial strategy to address crime. We value the positive impact of rehabilitation and treatment for drug dependency and mental health issues that are often intertwined with criminal activities. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has several rehabilitative programs, such as a veterans initiative in collaboration with the VA, and vocational programs for inmates with the Grossmont Adult Education Program. We also work with the Meth Strike Force to conduct field operations to target those who possess drugs, and when in contact with them, offer immediate placement in either treatment facilities or jail. However, all of these rehabilitative and treatment services cost money – and Prop. 47 does not provide funding for local treatment beds that law enforcement can use to address the drug dependency and mental health issues.

Bill Gore is the San Diego County sheriff.

    This article relates to: Must Reads, Opinion, Public Safety

    Written by Opinion

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    rhylton subscriber

    This is a sheriff's opinion. This is a law enforcement leader whose troops have used technology as a tool to arrest people before they commit crimes (The Minority Report Technique.) 

    Hear ye him, and then ignore him.  His side lost on 47 and he needs to adjust to it. This law enforcement leader needs to enforce the law as it is; not as he wishes it to be. At heart he is a warehouser and it shows through the prattle. 

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    Sheriff Gore, have we tried this true and tested humane law enforcement technique in San Diego yet . . . especially in the poor neighborhoods where residents feel so oppressed by law enforcement? Right time to implement it too as Thanksgiving and Christmas are round the corner. This is one way to "protect and serve."

    Maybe . . . and I say, maybe, the experiences will start healing the discords between the police and citizenry in San Diego and making San Diego law enforcement officers more humane, i.e., not so prone to violently manhandling people, escalating small and harmless situations into felonies, and just being trigger happy!

    PS. - Bill Bradshaw, this has NOTHING to do with "knocking" Sheriff Gore, just FYI!

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Crime rates are relatively steady. We don't need to collect DNA from nonviolent offenders. Using GBH or other "date rape" drugs (alcohol is the biggest one) on someone is a felony crime. Possessing them should not be. More money needs to fund drug rehabs and mental health facilities. Law enforcement is not the remedy to socials ills.

    And Gore needs to stop fear mongering. It's absurd that VofSD gave him this platform to espouse this rhetoric without an opposing view. I'm glad most of the commenters are on point.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    It’s going to be interesting to see whether all these readers knocking Sheriff Gore and defaming the motives and techniques of law enforcement change their tune as crime rates escalate. 

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Bill Bradshaw  Nobody is "knocking" Sheriff Gore . . . people are expressing opinions, i.e., that there must be better alternatives. Quite interesting that DA Dumanis is backing away from certain types of prosecution and aligning with some of President Obama's initiatives while Sheriff Gore is taking the hard line law enforcement techniques that America is famous for. I watched a YouTube video the other day (approximately five minutes long) in which British police officers in U.K. took time to subdue and arrest a mentally disturbed man brandishing a machete. Most of the comments about that video were the same . . . i.e., the machete brandishing mentally disturbed man would have been riddled with bullets within the first minute if it had happened in the U.S.

    All some of us are saying is that, it is time to look at some of these law enforcement techniques and see if there are better ways to do things. The DNA narrative is disturbing to me because I was once [forced] to give my blood when I was arrested on a false DUI charge that was never prosecuted for lack of evidence . . . i.e., after spending a few thousand dollars hiring a lawyer to represent me. If I had not hired a lawyer, I would have been forced into plea deal to get out of the nightmarish situation, especially when you know you are being wrongfully prosecuted.

    Nobody is "defaming" the "motives and techniques of law enforcement" . . . especially when some law enforcement higher-ups are also questioning unlawful and unconstitutional "motives and techniques" of some very compromised law enforcement officers. The hope is that crime rates will NOT escalate, i.e., if things are done a little bit differently and especially more humanely.

    I sincerely hope that Sheriff Gore will listen to and entertain the opinions of those people that don't agree with him because we all have experiences that are making us speak up and question his position.

    DavidM subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw Has Sheriff Gore made any statement about this guy "defaming the motives and techniques of law enforcement?"  Or the two guys with him who participated by their silence?

    Law enforcement throughout this country has a problem of its own making, and those in leadership and senior management positions don't have a clue how to handle it.  But Proposition 47 is only a peripheral issue; what to do with folks bereft of hope so they turn to drugs and property crimes?  I don't trust him with an answer.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Cornelius Ogunsalu @Bill Bradshaw  Sheriff Gore writes about Prop 47, the downgrading of certain crimes from felony to misdemeanor, and opines that results after a year indicate there are real problems with the proposition.  This is not surprising when you see the disastrous effects of the poor wording and the way the High Sped Rail initiative and the Medical Marijuana measure that passed a number of years ago have been interpreted and implemented by the state.

    Among Gore’s claims is that rehabilitative efforts, particularly for chronic drug offenders, have fewer takers.  Why go through rehab, e.g., if you are set free much sooner?  He cites a 60% decrease in the largest county in the state as an example.

    He also cites the impact on “date rape” situations, where it is now impossible to collect DNA samples.

    I think he makes some good points the public should consider, and if the following statements from reader comments aren’t a knock on Sheriff Gore and defamation of police in general, what would YOU call them?

      “Anything to keep more people in prison is what the police state would like....”

     “If it were up to Gore, DNA would be taken for a traffic or parking violation....”

        “When you are a hammer everything else is a nail......”

        “Sheriff Gore displays what I like to call “cop mentality”....”

        “This track to imprison more people......”

        “How does this narrative fit into the impression we are left with, i.e., job security     for law enforcement officers at the expense of those people Prop. 47 came to rescue......”

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Bill Bradshaw @Cornelius Ogunsalu I speak for myself . . . my statement that you cited here is NOT "knocking" Sheriff Gore. One other thing I will like to state is that one (1) year is too soon to make sweeping conclusions about whether or not Prop 47 is good legislation or not. Most importantly, Prop 47 does not reduce date rape from a felony to a misdemeanor. So, I believe DNA samples will always continue to be taken for date rape. Here is a link for you to read what Prop 47 is about.,_Reduced_Penalties_for_Some_Crimes_Initiative_(2014)

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    Anything to keep more people in prison is what the the police state would like.If were up to Gore DNA would be taken for a traffic of parking violation. The prison guard union has entirely to much political power. They would like to see our children put in juvenile prison for disrupting a class or using a cell phone. That is what they do in South Carolina and Texas, school to prison pipeline. More people in prison means more money out of the pockets of tax payers and more into the pockets of the private prison industry and their stock holders. 

    rhylton subscriber

    When you are a hammer everything else is a nail, Simon and Garfunkel be damned.

    El Condor Pasa 

    I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
    Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
    I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
    Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Sheriff Gore displays what I like to call "cop mentality" in his assertion that DNA from "Any one of these" now-reduced sentenced offenders "could be a match for a murder or rape case." Fact is they are all only non-violent offenders, very UNlikely to commit a violent crime. Cop mentality always sees a criminal instead of a citizen.

    I *do* agree with him however that possession of date rape drugs should be a felony. In this case possession strongly indicates intent to use, which WOULD then be a felony.

    I also agree with DavidM -- Mr. Gore shouldn't be surprised that the law didn't plan for any increase in needed funding. That happens too often.

    Perhaps Prop 47 can be amended to fix these two points.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    This just from the President of the United States of America!

    "The problem we’re trying to solve is not just to keep on catching people and putting them back in jail. The problem we’re trying to solve here is giving people a foundation through which they can then become productive citizens...the goal is to prevent crime. The goal is to make sure that folks are fairly punished when they break the law. But the ultimate goal is to make sure that folks are law-abiding, self-sufficient, good citizens. And everything we do should be designed towards that goal. And if we’re doing a good job there, then crime will go down and it will stay down." —President Obama in Newark on criminal justice reform.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    This track to imprison more people is a wonderful one we should all pay for.  Yes, a 4X increase since 1970 is just not enough.  Rates from 1920 to 1970 were pretty steady, then we have had 45 years of steady increases and where has it gotten us?  Put out all the mentally ill, don't support them and then imprison them.  Imprison people for nonviolent drug and alcohol use, no harm to others.  Put your hammer away, Sheriff Gore.  We aren't all nails.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    Sheriff Gore, how does this narrative fit into those [innocent] people that were deliberately criminalized? How does it fit into people (some completely innocent) who were charged with felonies when they should have been charged with misdemeanors or not charged at all, but whose blood samples were nonetheless taken (usually to go fishing for other crimes that may or may not have been committed)? How does this narrative fit into President Obama's initiatives on the same topic? How does this narrative fit into law enforcement overreach in our communities, especially when certain demographics (i.e., blacks) get targeted harder when it comes to charges and convictions? How does this narrative fit into the impression we are left with, i.e., job security for law enforcement officers at the expense of those people Prop. 47 came to rescue from undue, unnecessary and often unfair sentences?

    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

    DavidM subscriber

    Sorry, I don't understand the point here.  The state lied; promising "hundreds of millions" which haven't materialized?

    Welcome to California Sheriff Gore.

    And sorry Sheriff, but being unable to collect DNA is a diversion from whatever argument you are making.  As I read the choice, it is "what if some rapist isn't arrested for a sex crime because we don't get his DNA after being arrested for some non-violent offense?"  Making policy decisions based on "what if" is a poor argument.