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Law & Disorder: The shape of things to come

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POSTED February 4, 2010 1:52 a.m.
Three young men apparently thought it would be fun Tuesday night to go around with flashing red and blue strobe lights and pull over unsuspecting motorists and ask for their identification.

Manteca Police pulled the trio over for allegedly impersonating an officer as well as for false imprisonment with traffic stops. The charges are felonies. While they were arrested, they were not booked and did not spend one second behind bars. They were simply cited and released.

Manteca Police had no choice but to act like bass fishermen and play catch and release. Had someone got hurt or kidnapped they would have earned a trip to jail. But if they simply used the ruse to steal from the drivers pulled over who knows what would have happened? They could have been booked but be released in hours because there may be people accused of more violent crimes or a repeat habitual offender who gets three hots and a cot courtesy of the San Joaquin County taxpayer.

It isn’t a deep dark secret that the San Joaquin County Jail is overcrowded and it’s under state court direction not to go above a certain level or else. It’s the same state court, by the way, that is playing a pivotal role in the early release of state prisoners not due to budgetary concerns as the governor is doing but due to overcrowding.

Criminals, you see, are entitled to their space, safety and medical care approaching an average of $15,000 a head. What we’re not entitled to is public safety.

The Manteca City Council, in discussing how the county plans to seek a tax to raise the $40 million in annual operating cost for an expanded jail that is expected to break ground soon, has it figured out. The additional jail space being created will soon be filled by the state inmates that California is releasing early in lieu of reorganizing and trimming government. It may come as a shock to Sacramento, but you can reduce the bureaucracy and rethink government to be leaner and meaner just as cities like Manteca who realized the party was over two years ago.

In San Joaquin County’s case, the odds are state parolees committing crimes will eventually fill up any new beds. But until the jail is expanded look for some real scary moments for Sheriff Steve Moore who may have to decide to start letting more serious felons to be kicked loose earlier or not even booked thanks to the potential for a surge in crime from early prison releases.

If you doubt that is going to happen consider this: San Joaquin County is at 17.1 percent unemployment compared to 12 percent for the state. The NUMNI plant is closing April 1 and is expected to have a major impact on county residents either employed directly at the Fremont plant or a supplier.

How is a parolee going to get a job in an economic atmosphere like that? The only place they are likely to work is in your house, in your business, and in your car stealing.

We are told by advocates for parolees that this is all our fault. After all, we didn’t provide enough funding for rehabilitation.

We are told by the courts that it is our collective responsibility to make sure prisoners have access to the best medical care even if we don’t.

We are told that crime is all our fault because we don’t adequately fund education.

We are told we should have known this would happen because we passed Proposition 13.

When is it the fault and responsibility of those who are convicted of committing crimes?
So, you ask, what is the solution?

Since we can’t force the court’s hand by ballot measure - which is a good thing – we can make it clear that we expect basics from the state government and no redundancy.

We do not need a California Arts Council. We do not need nine different agencies overseeing water policy. We need to rethink how we do things and what we expect of state government.

Cut 66,000 state bureaucratic jobs and that saves $4.6 billion a year based on a conservative $70,000 per worker for wages, salary, and health benefits. It also represents a 20 percent cut – which is the same percentage Manteca has pared back its workforce in response to the new reality.

The California Department of Finance estimated there were 329,000 state workers in 2005-06. That was up 100 percent from 1976-77 – the year before Proposition 13 passed – when there were 114,000 state workers. It is interesting to note California has 23.6 million residents in 1978 compared to an estimated 37 million. The number of workers on the state payroll grew much faster that the population.

So the real reason people who commit serious offenses such as impersonating police officers just get a ticket and are sent on their way has everything to do with the California Legislature putting the job security of pencil pushers above public safety.

We are creeping slowly toward the point where law enforcement may have to decide if making an arrest for some crimes just isn’t worth it any longer.

We may have law but we don’t have order.
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