At 6 a.m. Thursday morning I was standing alongside the Manteca Public Library with Manteca Police Officer Mike Kelly as he woke up the homeless who had made camp under the eaves and reminded them to clean up after themselves before they moved on to the gazebo in Library Park.
This is a typical day in the life of Kelly – the former Manteca Police booking officer who six months ago took over the impossible task of getting a handle of the burgeoning homeless population in the growing city – something that seemed to pop up overnight and catch nearly everybody off guard.
But if you ask some people on Facebook, Kelly doesn’t do anything at all – he was just a prop put up by the police department to placate the cameras and the news crews and give the impression that Manteca was doing something to wrangle a problem that had annoyed many a shop owner, resident, and elected official.
It would be piling on to go through all the reasons that’s a ludicrous idea – enough people have come to Kelly’s defense on Facebook to detail how the job he was assigned to couldn’t have gone to a person better equipped to tackle the issue – including some former homeless people themselves who have known him for years.
But the real issue, at least from my perspective, doesn’t have anything to do with the opinion on Kelly (people can be wrong if they so choose) or even opinions in general, but the way in which those opinions are shared.
If you’re a member of any of the neighborhood watch groups – or groups like them – that focus on Manteca, you’re exposed to a laundry list of posts about things that happen in the community on a given day. A mailbox on such-and-such street was broken into. A car flipped over on whatchamacallit street. And for somebody who wants to be informed about their community, it’s a pretty good thing – you learn about the goings-on in the place that you live, and most of the time it doesn’t hurt anybody to be better informed.
Notice that I said most of the time.
Because it seems like, at least as it pertains to those groups, the access to information has made it appear that crime in Manteca is more out of control than it is, and some people have surmised that the reason that it’s out of control is that the Manteca Police Department isn’t doing its job.
One person thought that the best way to address this would be to sue the City of Manteca – because taking away money from an entity that already doesn’t have enough money do all the things that it needs to do is usually the best way to solve a problem, right.
But while it was easy to point out it was a bad idea and not the right way to go about addressing the problem, the true issue rests in how the problem was identified in the first place – that crime is out of control and the police aren’t doing anything about it and therefore major sweeping changes need to be made.
Let’s just start off by saying that most the problems that people complain about on these boards – the property crimes that none of us ever want to be party to – can’t necessarily be solved by putting more police officers on the street. These types of crimes are typically committed by people with drug problems that would spend time in the San Joaquin County Jail where they would have a few months to think about the choices that they’ve made.
Now, thanks to a court decision that declared the conditions inside of California’s prison’s unconstitutional and the do-good California voting public reclassifying what are misdemeanors and what are felonies to try and lighten the impact of drug-related crimes, people that would spend some time in County Jail are now arrested, booked and released without any real punishment for the crimes that they committed. If they do have a drug habit that they need to maintain, we’ve just given them the access they need to pursue it and the opportunity to feed it. And unfortunately, that means your backpack or your purse or your stereo (or, more recently, your identity) must be sacrificed for that to happen.
None of this is any fault of the police officers who are tasked with enforcing the laws that are on the books.
But sometimes it’s just easier to share misinformation on Facebook than ask a simple question that would yield an equally simple answer.