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Chief Bricker: Governor’s plan ‘decriminalizes’ some vehicle thefts

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POSTED July 24, 2009 2:20 a.m.
Manteca’s efforts to reduce auto theft may be undermined severely by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to bridge a $26.1 billion state deficit.

Part of the governor’s plan to whittle $1.2 billion from the Department of Corrections budget is to reduce the number of inmates being sent to prison by changing the criminal justice system.

One component is reducing vehicle thefts of cars valued $2,500 or less to a misdemeanor.

Given San Joaquin County’s overcrowded jail conditions, that will mean someone arrested for such a vehicle theft to essentially be a “catch and release” prisoner and essentially doesn’t increase their potential to do prison time. Those convicted of misdemeanors typically serve time in county jails.

“It will essentially decriminalize some vehicle thefts,” noted Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker. “They (criminals) know they will be able to steal cars and not suffer any consequences.”

If the governor succeeds in getting his way, Manteca’s vehicle theft rate is expected to start climbing after peaking at 798 in 2004 and has since steadily dropped hitting 321 in 2008.

Bricker noted that cars under $2,500 tend to be stolen by people who want to use them for transportation or for joy rides while those above that threshold are usually taken for parts.

Even so, Bricker said it will create problems.

“It’s just like with a kid,” Bricker said. “You can threaten to discipline them but if you don’t whack them once in awhile they pretty much know nothing is going to happen.”

Bricker said Manteca Police will continue to apply pressure on criminals regardless of dwindling resources or how the state makes things easier for criminals.

Other provisions of Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce the prison budget by $1.2 billion annually include:

• making the writing of bad checks, receiving stolen property, and petty theft misdemeanors instead of felonies. The proposed change would mean the crimes will no longer be publishable with prison sentences. Bricker believes this will simply encourage more criminals to pursue identify theft.

• raising the threshold for grand theft from $400 to $2,500 which means the theft of an item valued at $2,300 would be considered a misdemeanor. The end result is no state prison time and minimal time in the San Joaquin County Jail due to overcrowding.

• placing paroles who commit some parole violations to be eligible for GPS supervision outside of prison by eliminating the current law requiring them to be automatically sent back to prison.

• possibly commuting the sentences of illegal immigrant inmates to allow them to be turned over to federal officials for deportation. His plan calls for starting with low level cases and proceeding on an individual basis. Up first on the list are those who have committed just one felony and have never committed violent acts or a sexual offense.

• inmates released who are considered low to moderate risk will not be subject to supervision by parolee officers in a bid to get the case load down from 70 to 1 to 45 to 1 per probation office. They would still be subject, however, to warrantless searches by police.

• allowing some prison inmates deemed low-risk offenders to serve their prison sentence in a home or a hospital treatment center wearing a GPS device on an ankle bracelet.  Inmates eligible would be sick, elderly or have less than 12 months left on their sentences. The governor gives no indication of who would monitor these individuals.

Bricker sees a major problem with that provision as well.

“A lot of time these people were arrested selling drugs out of their home,” Bricker said. “It makes no sense to parole them back to where they were arrested committing the crime.”

In addition to being able to sell drugs from their home even with a GPS tracking device, Bricker noted there would be nothing preventing them from coming into contact with former associates due to the dropping of direct supervision and the fact a violation of parole – such as staying away from known criminal associates – is something that will not send them back to prison automatically as it does now.
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