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Crime level on the rise?
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The times we are in right now are certainly unstable, with any number of threats confronting us at the global, national, state and local level. Here at the state and local level, the biggest threats we face manifest in the form of a decidedly weak economy, a possible drought, the state budget is in shambles and policymakers are looking to shift public safety costs (normally borne by the state) to local communities, gangs have been multiplying like locusts, gasoline prices have risen beyond most anyone's imagination, the Ninth District Federal Court is contemplating the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, the state legislative analysts office has proposed a state prisoner release of some 20,000 prisoners, and the list goes on.

My role as Police Chief/Director of Public Safety in Ceres is not to foment fear or anxiety. I realize the possibilities of creating unease within the community as I speak about the threats we face. It is essential, however, that the community remains informed about the issues that potentially affect your quality of life, safety and security. The fact is we are facing hard times with particular threats from the criminal sector, as the state government contemplates financial moves that may deeply affect local law enforcement's ability to keep the community safe.

Consider this: to save money, the state talks about releasing 20,000 prisoners, who are not otherwise eligible for parole, and who, based on current state-level discussions, would receive no supervision once released. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is also exhuming a previously failed program to divert certain criminals sentenced to state prison to other programs. At the same time, the state is considering the elimination of booking fee reimbursements, which, for a city like Ceres, amounts to some $135,000 annually. The COPS grant program, which helps buy essential safety equipment and pays for one or more police officers (the actual number depends on a city's population) may also be cut from the budget. These losses, when combined, will reduce the ability of police to patrol the streets, to investigate crimes and to apprehend criminals. The timing for those cuts could not be worse.

Studies have shown time and time again that when the unemployment rate goes up, so does crime. So, with rising costs for food, goods and fuel, a deteriorating economy, a large criminal gang presence, fewer police officers on the streets, and the threat of a mass release of prisoners, these variables are coming together simultaneously to form a "perfect storm" virtual crime wave.

Insofar as the prisoner release issues go, the state may or may not proceed with its ill-conceived idea. The federal court, however, appears poised to order a mass release - not for economic reasons, but because of the alleged overcrowding of the state prison system. If this occurs, the adverse community impacts will be significant. The areas hardest hit by any such release will be places like the Central Valley or the Imperial Valley - not upper scale locations like the Bay Area or the Central Coast region. The reason for this is two-fold: one is that a larger proportion of prisoners originate from less wealthy areas, where education levels are lower and poverty is more pronounced; the second is that prisoners who complete their sentences are, as a matter of policy, released back to the area in which they lived prior to sentencing. State officials are quick to argue that only the "nonviolent" prisoners would be released. Any such assertion is dubious, as it takes quite an effort to end up in California's state prison system - usually numerous convictions for serious crimes. And the final crime committed that caused the convict to end up in prison may, indeed, have been "only" a property crime, but few prisoners are free of any kind of violent past. To be sure, convicts in state prison are hardened criminals who are just waiting to get out and do more of the same. In any event, releasing these kinds of people will have the effect of a hoard of marauders committing crime at a time when the ability of police to deal with them has been compromised as a result of various budget cutbacks. The idea of the prisoner release goes beyond foolishness; it is sheer irresponsibility, representing a distinct lack of concern for the law-abiding "common" people who work hard to make their living and to take care of their families. It is shameful to even utter the words of a possible prisoner release, especially during a time like this.

As individuals, we have few options to impact the faltering economy in a meaningful way. However, voter influence can be very a very powerful influence on the proposed actions of the state. State legislators, the governor's office and even the Legislative Analyst's office will be responsive if the public sends them all a clear message. There is, indeed, much you can do about this impending crisis. It is up to you to become familiar with the issues - do not just take my word for it - and demand that the state government places your safety, health and welfare as the absolute top priority.

You should also take steps to secure your property by making it more difficult to be stolen, work with your neighbors so everyone watches out for each other, and be quick to report suspicious activity to the police.

It will also help greatly if people stop being hesitant to act as witnesses. Witness intimidation is a reality of the life we now live, but it is only so because we have allowed criminal bullies to threaten and intimidate. The irony of this situation is that the population is a victim either way. The more success gangs, in particular, have with their intimidation tactics, the more brazen they will become. Once they see that we are all prepared to stand up to their intimidation tactics, they will become weakened and ineffective. As it is now, they rely on your fear to allow them to get away with an unprecedented amount of crime and violence.

By all accounts, the crime wave is already on its way. Let us be ready, both mentally and in terms of overall preparedness. Our safety and safety, security and quality of life are for us to take back and keep. Be sure to let your elected representatives know that we all stand in solidarity against crime, and that we will not tolerate them balancing the state budget on the backs of innocent victims and the other good people of this state.