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State's early release program wreaking havoc
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Property crime in Ceres is up 13.9 percent, and you probably know the reasons why. This emerging trend is going to be a tough one to resolve because the criminal justice system is failing insofar as property crimes are concerned. The news is not all entirely bad, since the "system" still appears to be working in connection with violent crime, as it is down 15 percent. It is clear to me, however, that people living in this area are becoming increasingly frustrated with the frequency of thefts, vehicle break-ins, burglaries and auto thefts. The increase in property crime in Ceres tells only a small part of the story with regard to what is going on in Stanislaus County. Some areas have been much harder hit, and unless we are successful in finding new ways to stem the tide, the theft problems we are now seeing will likely pale in comparison to what lies ahead in the future.

The leading cause of this property crime increase results from the colossal mistake the state has made with its much-touted "realignment" program, which is political-speak for shifting the state's incarceration financial burdens to local communities. The direct and indirect costs are borne not only by local city and governments. The residents, employees and business operators in each community are paying the biggest financial price with the increase in property crimes.

Some people feel that nothing is safe, as thieves (former prison and jail inmates) now roam the streets. And because many state prisoners have been transferred to local county jails, there is virtually no room to incarcerate burglars and thieves when arrested. It is a pathetic state of affairs and I never, in my nearly 40 years in law enforcement, imagined that a state government would rule in such a careless and irresponsible manner. Make no mistake; the state has, in effect, tried to reduce its budgetary pressures by transferring them onto the backs of the taxpayers and insurance companies. The state's financial problems have been amplified by a deteriorating economy, but much of this could have been avoided were it not for its poor fiscal management and wrong spending priorities.

Keep in mind, also, that the prisoners that have been released early from state penal institutions are not the non-violent offenders as the state would have us all believe. Be assured that in California, it takes quite a few convictions for serious crimes before a criminal is finally sentenced to prison as opposed to doing short periods of time in local county jails. An examination of the records of these convicts will reveal that many, if not a majority of them, have violent crime convictions on their pasts. The state bases its assertion of non-violent offenders on the criminal's most recent offense - so it leaves a serious question of believability to be contended with.

Many convicts have serious mental health and substance abuse problems, and once they are released from prison, they have few places to turn to for care and assistance. This, compounded with a lack of skills and education to gain employment, suggests that turning back to crime for a living is almost a sure thing.

Most law enforcement agencies in this region have lost sworn and civilian positions, and there have been significant cuts to the overtime previously used to backfill shifts when personnel are sick, training, or on vacation. All of the aforementioned issues do not bode well for community safety and security.

To give you an example of how severe the system failure really is, Ceres Police recently arrested the same "early-release" prisoner four times in a six-week period. And these arrests were not for petty matters; the criminal committed four residential burglaries (that we know of) and each time was booked into jail. He emerged with no fears and instantly proceeded to victimize more innocent people. Does the state care? I do not think so. After all, now that they have shoved realignment down the collective throats of local communities, the politicians can go on spending money on non-essential programs and projects while the good citizens and their families suffer from almost continuous victimization. In yet another instance, there is a well-known criminal who has been arrested eight times in Ceres alone! He is still free to victimize people as he wishes without apparent consequence. We have to wonder how we have fallen to such a low when serial criminals such as the two mentioned here can commit crime after crime with no real consequences. Police officers from throughout this region will tell you that they frequently hear from arrestees that they fear no consequence from the "system," and that they often say, in effect, that the joke is on us.

We know that there will be no increase in law enforcement funding any time soon, so it is imperative that programs such as Neighborhood Watch be reactivated, and that residents take an active role in looking for and reporting people engaged in suspicious behavior. Another key action is for residents and business owners to make their property interests "hardened targets." This means to improve security by consistently keeping doors and windows locked, to make use of quality alarm systems and to remove theft temptations from view. We still find garage doors open at night, people leave valuables in cars, bicycles and other items are left on porches, and there is a general tendency to think that being a victim is what happens to someone else. Thieves usually go for the easy targets, and if everyone protects their property and belongings, the thieves will go elsewhere.

I know of some neighborhoods in different cities where the residents have hired a security firm to patrol their neighborhoods every evening, all night. When the cost is spread among enough people, it becomes affordable, and the results are generally good. You might ask why, with the taxes you already pay, the police not performing these refined neighborhood services. It is a fair question, but it is the case that there simply are not enough officers to continuously concentrate on any one neighborhood. In fact, to do so was not necessary in the past, but now with all these former prisoners roaming our streets, coupled with a weakened criminal justice system, we just have to adapt and do more to protect our property, our possessions and our families.