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Perfect storm brewing for more crime
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California is facing an unprecedented set of circumstances, amounting to several alarming events converging simultaneously to form a "perfect storm" that threatens the safety, security and peace within of our communities. I suspect that the more attentive readers are already aware of these, but this issue is so important that I should make no assumption that everyone is aware of what is happening.

Fewer police, prosecutors

The first issue is that the criminal justice system is being downsized because of the budgetary problems facing most all public entities. These would include police departments, sheriffs' departments, district attorneys' offices, public defenders' offices, the courts and the state prison system. The chances of criminals being arrested for their crimes, especially crimes that are not considered violent, are less because there are now substantially fewer law enforcement officers and investigators than in previous years. This means fewer officers and deputies patrolling the streets and neighborhoods of our communities, and fewer investigators to follow-up on crimes that were not solved when originally reported. For example, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department has lost approximately 54 sworn positions since 2008. Modesto Police Department has lost almost 12 percent of their sworn personnel, typifying the kinds of personnel reductions going on throughout the state. Other important positions like community service officers and support staff have also seen dramatic reductions in most law enforcement agencies.

The district attorney offices around the state have lost many prosecutor positions, so they are "triaging" cases that, in effect, means that they are simply unable to prosecute so-called lower level criminal cases. It may sound insignificant, but statistically speaking, many of the violators committing these "minor crimes" like thefts (in particular), are also the same ones perpetrating violent crimes in our communities. By allowing minor offenses to go unpunished, criminals will feel empowered to commit crimes more often and of a more serious nature. But frankly, the "system" has no choice but to triage criminal cases on the basis of how serious they are. This leaves many victims who have suffered real losses, feeling helpless and vulnerable to the next offense they might fall prey to.

As a result of prodding by the federal courts, special interest groups who seek better lives for prisoners, and state lawmakers wishing to save money, the state prison system has engaged in rigorous "early release" programs. These programs feature the setting free of convicted criminals before they have completed their sentences with no follow-up supervision as in the more traditional parole situations of the past. These early-release prisoners are plying our streets with no fear of having to go back to prison for committing all but major offenses. They are becoming the scourge of our communities.

Gangs on the rise

Next there are the gangs, which have continuously-growing memberships. In Stanislaus County, the gangs face a formidable enforcement element, and through mutual cooperation and aggressive intelligence gathering and investigative techniques, their growth has been somewhat stemmed. Still, their numbers grow and while the growth is slow, it is steady and sure. Any digression from the current enforcement levels will be sure to allow gang growth and their criminal activities to increase far beyond what we now see as being barely tolerable.

The gangs of Mexican drug cartels are an emerging threat of great significance. We have all heard about cartel-related crime in Mexico; the beheadings, murders, torture cases and kidnappings. Phoenix now has the dubious distinction of being this country's kidnapping capital, all of which stems from its proximity to the Mexican border and related drug activity. As was previously predicted, California (along with other border states) now has an established cartel presence, complete with all of the crime associated with the cartels. Just as it was predicted that the cartels would establish themselves here, we can similarly predict that the beheadings, efforts to corrupt politicians, the courts and the police, will also surely follow. Unless Mexico is able to get its problems under control, it stands the chance of becoming a narco-state, not unlike Columbia and other countries that are fully overrun by hardcore drug lords and cartels. Narco states encounter the kind of violence and corruption similar to war torn locations like Iraq or Afghanistan.

Courts are cutting back

The courts are facing funding cutbacks as well, so the criminal justice system also finds itself unable to process criminal (and even civil cases) in the same volume or timeliness as in the past. And to be clear, the public defenders' offices are now even worse off than before. The criminal defense side of the justice system is just as important as the prosecutorial function. Providing the accused with fair trials and proper legal representation is a core principal of this country's existence.

Clearly, all is not well in California. At this time, there is no immediate solution to the problem, since there will be no appreciable revenue increases in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the police will have to adapt in ways to better be able to prevent crimes before they are committed. This means to better know who and where the criminals are, and what they are doing. They need to be thwarted before they can commit crimes, and be displaced to other areas where the populations are not as vigilant or crime prevention oriented. Members of the community need to take even greater steps to "target-harden" themselves, by securing property, working as unified neighbors, making greater use of technology (like cameras and alarms) and to work closely with their local law enforcement agencies. Anything short of the aforementioned steps will likely lead to substantially more crime, hence many more victims.

If you are concerned about crime and you or your family members becoming victims, not only should you engage in deliberate and planned crime prevention activities, but you should also let your elected representatives, at all levels of government, know that you want safety, security and peace to be their funding and lawmaking priorities.