Today marks the first court appearance for one of the top targeted chronic homeless criminal offenders in Manteca under the recently implemented neighborhood district attorney program to find workable solutions for quality of life issues plaguing communities.
That means getting offenders into rehab programs or — if they refuse to accept help — throwing the proverbial book at them.
And if all goes well in the coming months Manteca may start seeing a significant improvement in homeless related issues.
The program launched by San Joaquin County District Attorney Toni Verber Salazar is a pragmatic approach designed to divert chronic offenders whether they are the homeless, addicts, or at-risk youth into rehab services if they are willing to accept help and prosecute those who refuse help and continue to commit crimes to the fullest extent of the law. The neighborhood DAs also are addressing other issues such as illegal dumping in rural areas and street racing.
Daniel Arriola — the neighborhood district attorney assigned to the South County and who is based in Tracy — explained the program and why it was launched during Thursday’s gathering of the Manteca Rotary at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
Salazar and her staff examined the cost and effectiveness with how the office historically has been dealing with chronic homeless criminals and others. They established it was costing $850 every time someone was booked into jail.
Arriola noted that more often than not those individuals are quickly released either due to jail overcrowding or the fact the crime they are accused of — although it has serious impacts on a community — doesn’t warrant them being held while awaiting trial.
They are released to appear. Often because they don’t have transportation to court, they fail to appear. Then the judge issues a bench warrant that requires them to be arrested when law enforcement comes across them or they are arrested again for a low-level crime.
Arriola noted court arraignments cost taxpayers $2,500 on top of the $850 booking costs. Not only are chronic offenders for level crimes piling up a huge tab for taxpayers to pick up when they are arrested over and over again, but based on how certain crimes have been decriminalized to a large degree they receive minimum jail time.
That has been happening because of how individual cases are prosecuted. In the past a different DA handled different courtroom appearances with a subject. By employing vertical prosecution that has the same DA handling all phases of a subject’s court appearances the prosecutor has a greater working knowledge of issues.
By targeting the top five offenders, the DA is able to contact parents of those being prosecuted or others that may know them as well as police that interact with them to determine what issues exist such as mental illness, drug addiction, and such.
They try to find a solution that leads to the individuals changing their lifestyle. If that doesn’t work because they are looking at the person holistically including their criminal patterns, the DA is able to bundle cases and take advantage of legal avenues that allow a maximum sentence.
Instead of an offender getting 30 days or less jail time, they can end up getting a 9 month sentence. And because of that they often will change their mind about accepting help given they can’t access drugs and sober up.
Arriola said Verber wanted to do the pilot program in the worst possible area plagued by homeless related quality of life issues. They selected an area near Wilson Way in South Stockton where parents wouldn’t let their children play outside and people stayed away from businesses late in the day and at night due to homeless issues, drug use, and more.
They soon found out five individuals were responsible for most of the problems. When none of them wanted to accept help, the DA started building strong cases against them via bundling crimes and vertical prosecution to secure maximum sentences.
Today Arriola said the neighborhood has been transformed. Blight issues tied into trash has plunged. Parents are letting their children play outside and merchants have reported increased profits as people are no longer afraid to venture to businesses that typically bear the brunt of homeless impacts.
Arriola noted downtown Stockton has the worst homeless problem in the county. He added issues in Manteca, Lodi and Tracy are about the same. Arriola pointed out there are homeless crime problems in virtually every city or urbanized area in San Joaquin County with the exception of Mountain House. That’s because there are no business that they can use as a base to panhandle and do other activities.
“If you see homeless in Mountain House, they are typically just passing through,” he said.
The program also has been addressing trespassing by the homeless and others from a different angle. Typically when an individual creates problems for a business, the best thing merchants can hope for is a restraining order that isn’t all that effective.
But if they work with law enforcement and provide letters that give officers the authority to clear their property of illegal campers and such as a cluster of Lathrop businesses plagued by homeless issues have done, the situation improves significantly.
Arriola said the best thing the public can do is report problems directly to police and not simply post complaints on “neighborhood rant and rave” social media sites. That way police can better establish where problems areas are located.
He praised the Manteca effort to harness various services and community-based groups to work with the police department to get people off the streets and into programs. Arriola said the DA’s office is working with other jurisdictions to replicate Manteca’s efforts in their communities.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com