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Cracking down on parolees at large
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The core mission of a police department, above all, is to provide safety and security for the people who live in or visit the community. This is brought about primarily through the enforcement of laws and the apprehension of criminals. Criminals are arrested through on-view arrests by the police or as a result of criminal investigations. In some instances, citizens make arrests for crimes committed against them or in their presence. Crime prevention through public education is the best alternative by showing people how to reduce their vulnerability to crime and law enforcement working collaboratively with the public to keep the community safe.

It is, perhaps, an oversimplification to boil down all of the Ceres Police Department's services down to just three priorities. After all, a municipal police department performs an enormous range of functions, duties and services which are too numerous to describe in this column. But it is helpful, in terms of administrating a police agency, to ensure that the officers and public understand the priorities in general terms. The three enforcement priorities for the Ceres Police Department during 2010 are: 1) parolees and drugs; 2) gangs; and, 3) DUI/traffic enforcement. In this column, I will speak to parolees and drugs. Gangs and DUI enforcement will be topics of this column in upcoming editions of the Ceres Courier.

Parolees and drugs and are a high enforcement priority in recognition of the fact that our communities have all too many parolees living in them, many of whom have "dropped out of the system," are unaccounted for, unsupervised and highly prone to committing crime. A large percentage of the parolees in our community are "at large," also known as "PALs," meaning they are supposed to be reporting to a parole agent but are not following the conditions of their parole. Their parole conditions often include mandatory drug testing and a prohibition of engaging in certain activities, staying away from certain areas or staying away from other criminals or crime victims. In addition to the existing supervision problem, the state has been early-releasing convicts in record numbers to alleviate the state's budget crisis and "human rights" pressure from the courts and special interest groups to relieve prison overcrowding.

More particularly, California's prison system has been engaged in the release of some 40,000 to 70,000 convicts who have not yet completed their sentences. The parole system is already overwhelmed, and with the impending release of thousands of additional convicts, the future of our collective safety and security is facing some real challenges. There is no way that the state's parole system can effectively supervise all the convicts already on release, let alone the waves of new ones that have been entering our communities.

There have been many claims that these early-release convicts are simply non-violent, harmless violators. Do not believe it; for those claims amount to propaganda. It takes a lengthy series of crimes to end up in state prison, and keep in mind that, for each of those crimes, there was at least one or more victims. Also, the recidivism rate for convicts is more than 70 percent - in other words, more than two thirds of all convicts will most certainly commit crimes again after being released from prison. And now with a weakened criminal justice system, those convicts have less to fear in terms of their chances of having to return to prison.

In recognition of the threat of these early-release/unsupervised convicts, the Ceres Police Department has established a four-officer Street Crimes Unit (SCU) which is paid for by Measure H funds as specifically voted on by the citizens of this community. Along with investigating gangs and thwarting their illegal activities, the SCU officers concentrate on identifying PALs and returning them to jail for crimes they are caught committing. It is also safe to say that most persons who have been in prison claim gang affiliations, so the emphasis on PALs is consistent with the overall enforcement objective.

It is often difficult for parolees to obtain employment, so they are left dealing in drugs, recycling stolen metals, plastics and glass to earn some money. And none of the aforementioned makes for a decent standard of living, so the PALs are quick to commit various crimes to help them get by. In short, our state government has left us in a very tough position. The early-release prisoners are converging on our communities and the full burden of their existence rests on our local communities.

One may wonder if there any intervention programs designed to keep PALs from returning to lives of crime. Local police departments are not funded, nor are they equipped with the kind of staffing that might help prevent parolee recidivism. And with the current trends of shrinking police forces, I do not see any change on the horizon. To that end, we find ourselves in the position of having to exercise strict enforcement and send the message that this community does not tolerate PALs committing crime here. It is Ceres Police Department's policy to bring the full weight of the law down on PALs who commit crimes here.