For nearly a decade, California has been sold on a series of public safety “reforms” built on a foundation of empty promises. The kind of promises told by people who want to get what they want, made to people who really want to believe what they hear.
As a family law and victims’ attorney, it’s a story I hear all too often. A story of abuse and victimization. An abuser continuing to abuse, each time promising to change. The victim feeling defeated and helpless — willing to believe almost anything.
But in this case, the abusers are a group of California policymakers and the victims are well-meaning Californians.
It started with the passage of AB109, which shifted tens of thousands of state inmates to local jails and ultimately onto our streets. It continued with Propositions 47 and 57, changing sentencing and parole policies, and authorizing mass early release. And this year, SB10 made California the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail.
These policies all came wrapped in grand promises, each one slightly less plausible than the last. Yet Californians believed. Like the abused spouse, they so wanted to believe that, this time, it would be true.
Less incarceration and more treatment. Safer streets and schools. A fairer and more efficient justice system. Reduced costs to the state. Early release would never apply to violent or sexual offenders.
That last lie should be the tipping point, the final blow that makes Californians say, “Enough.”
The shocking truth is that the list of crimes considered violent under California law is remarkably short. Raping an unconscious person isn’t officially a “violent” crime in California. Nor is pimping a child for sex. If an abuser beats a spouse or a domestic partner with enough force to cause injury, that’s not a violent crime either under California law. Clearly, few voters knew this.
But this deception did more than leave us feeling betrayed and angry. It made us less safe, and cost people their lives.
People like Whittier police Officer Keith Boyet, killed by a known gang member who would not have been on the streets without these “reforms.” Or 17-year-old Fresno high school student Nick Kauls, whose accused murderer would have been taken to jail just hours before the murder had it not been for changes resulting from Prop. 47.
And while it’s too late to save them — our hearts break for their families — it’s not too late to help future victims.
One way we hope to accomplish this is through the Keeping California Safe Act of 2020, which expands the state’s list of violent crimes to include crimes that are clearly violent — like raping an unconscious person and pimping a child for sex.
Other crimes include domestic violence, felony hate crimes, assault with a deadly weapon and drive-by shootings, none of which is classified as violent under California law. Moreover, the initiative strengthens parole violations and gives voters more authority over early release decisions, which are now made by an unelected body whose members are appointed by the governor, with little if any input from victims, prosecutors or the public.
It would also overhaul theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves, and expand the crimes for which DNA can be collected — previously narrowed by Prop. 47 — to help solve rape, murder and other violent crimes, and to exonerate those wrongly accused.
Restoring accountability is also the focus of a second statewide measure headed for the November 2020 ballot — a referendum to block SB10, which abolished cash bail, a vital public safety tool that helps ensure people arrested for crimes show up to stand trial.
Having your day in court has become a common idiom, but its purpose in the criminal justice system is essential: a trial or other court proceeding is where the accused and the accuser can be heard. It’s where justice is served. When a defendant is not held accountable to appear, the process breaks down.
SB10 replaces the money bail system with a computer-based “risk assessment” algorithm that lacks both transparency and the necessary teeth to ensure a defendant appears. Unbiased studies, and perhaps more importantly judges, agree.
SB10 was grossly amended and passed at the last minute by the Legislature — against strong, bipartisan opposition from a wide range of groups, from crime victims and sheriffs, to the ACLU and Black Lives Matter.
We encourage all Californians to educate themselves on these measures and other efforts to fix the harm done by these public safety “reforms.” No more empty promises.