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As expected, thefts are rising
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Many communities throughout California - Ceres included - are experiencing dramatic, double-digit increases in property crime as revealed in statistics comparing January through June of 2012 to the same period in 2011. In Stanislaus County, the number of auto thefts has made a quantum leap, residential and business burglaries are happening in significantly higher numbers and so it seems, just about anything that is not "bolted down" is likely to get stolen. This should be no surprise to anyone in light of the passage and implementation of Assembly Bill 109, which is also known as "realignment." In effect, AB 109 pushes or diverts convicted criminals from the state penal system into local communities and jurisdictions.

One of the questionable aspects of AB 109 is that it asserts to redirect alleged "non-violent" offenders from the state system to local counties and communities. Many of these alleged non-violent offenders actually have histories of violence in addition to their property crimes, fraud and other offenses. In California, it takes many convictions to actually end up in state prison, and now with the state's ill-conceived, money-saving scheme, the system that is supposed to protect innocent people from criminals is now substantially weakened. It is the people who live work-a-day lives that bear the brunt of these kinds of policy changes, and what makes matters worse, the convicts on early-release or who end up here owing to "realignment," are really left to themselves. They stand little chance of succeeding in society and many of them end up homeless on the streets. And if they cannot succeed, they continue with their lives of crime. In effect, the state is trying to balance its budget on the backs of law-abiding citizens whose chances of being victimized are now significantly higher.

It is a fact that when criminals, especially repeat offenders, are kept locked up, they cannot commit crime. California has, for quite a few years, enjoyed a relatively low crime rate largely due to incarceration and prosecutorial policies. But now that all levels of government are experiencing financial difficulties, public safety is suffering because of reduced funding.

Here is an interesting Ceres' case that shows how poorly the system works: a local criminal [parolee] who has been arrested at least six times and spent time in state prison continues to freely roam the streets and continues victimizing residents. This individual is notorious for committing residential burglaries and other crimes to include resisting arrest and evading the police. Keep in mind, also, that a criminal typically gets away with numerous crimes before the "system" catches up with him and he is sentenced to jail or state prison. People are already quite fed up with what they perceive to be increased threats to their safety and property, and they are laying the blame directly on the state's new realignment program and the early release of convicts from prison.

While the state claims to be saving money by failing to imprison or keep hardcore violators incarcerated, upstanding citizens now pay the price through lost lives, injuries, stolen or damaged property, higher insurance premiums, and a reduced quality of life. Having the feeling that anything that you own is subject to theft or having to fear for your personal safety is unacceptable. It is a shame that we have to exist in conditions where our safety and security is compromised while the criminals scoff at the system and take advantage of its weaknesses.

There are still things we can do to improve our relative safety. First, secure your property and practice proper personal safety techniques. Do not leave any valuables in your car. Close and lock your garage doors and do not keep anything of value on your porches. Jewelry and other valuables should be kept in a safe deposit box or in a good safe. I recommend home and vehicle alarms, but understand that police cannot routinely respond to alarm calls, especially since so many of them are false. Nevertheless, alarm systems are good because they alert neighbors, vehicle owners and property occupants of forced entries. When the police receive reports of crimes in progress, they make those responses a priority.

Personal safety awareness is also important. Be aware of your surroundings and use a certain measure of suspicion when you go places. Check out your surroundings frequently and look to see if any person's behavior is unusual. Take a class or read online about recommended personal safety practices. Keep a charged cell phone with you, and be sure to keep in mind the fact that when you dial 9-1-1 from a cell phone, there are significant delays as compared to using a land wire phone. The best thing to do is to program your local police dispatch center line directly into your phone - 538-5712 for Ceres Police. And when in different jurisdictions, do the same thing to eliminate the 9-1-1 cell phone delay problem.

Public cooperation with the police is crucial. We have to work as a team in order to keep our communities safe; report suspicious people, activities, and vehicles to the police without delay. Know who belongs in your neighborhood, get to know your neighbors and work together with them.

Finally, do not forget that the "people" rule this state via elected representatives. If you let them do whatever they want, your best interests may not be represented; it is an unfortunate fact of any democracy. If you do not like the decisions that are being made by the local, state for federal governments, then you should get involved and make the politicians change course. In the meantime, we are stuck with these crime circumstances. Your police are working hard to reduce crime through rigorous patrols and by using the most effective policing practices. But the challenge to keep our communities safe is now much more difficult, so it is imperative that we all work together to overcome the new problems we face.