Updated: Dec 3, 2022
Crime in California is spiraling out of control, diminishing the quality of life for its residents and erasing the character and promise of what was once a coveted place to live.
Siyamak Khorrami, host of EpochTV‘s “California Insider” program, provides on-the-ground reporting and interviews to shed light on crime in California and what can be done about it.
Testimony from California residents sounds a lot like life in a third-world country.
Many say they can’t wear jewelry in public because of blatant robberies that are taking place around the clock.
Even places like show-business capital Hollywood and luxurious Beverly Hills are no longer safe for those who possess status symbols that show their social or economic standing. Having a nice car or an expensive wristwatch makes a person a target.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley explains that there will always be the “criminal element” in society, but the “only way to fight it is through policies and the people who fight the criminal element—police and prosecutors.” He says that weak prosecutors give the criminal element an advantage, which in turn leads to a crime-ridden society.
The documentary “California’s Crime Wave–What’s the Problem?” shows an interview with a California resident who tells of drinking his morning coffee while watching security video footage of his home, and seeing multiple attempted break-ins every night. Eventually, over 80 percent of his fellow homeowners’ association members voted in favor of hiring armed security guards to patrol the area at night.
In San Francisco, more than 40 percent of people surveyed say they’d like to move out of the city. Many already have.
Thieves are targeting small businesses more frequently, with robberies up 100 percent. Three of the top 10 cities for organized retail theft in the country are in California. Video footage shows shoplifters stealing and looting right in front of shoppers and security guards, walking out with armloads of clothes in broad daylight. They even lie in wait for people exiting stores to steal items they just purchased. One small business owner said he believes California’s system is sending the message that it’s OK to steal because they continue to let people get away with it.
Interestingly, according to official data, violence and property crime rates are at historic lows in California. Is the data wrong, or is it being manipulated? If you ask the average resident in San Francisco, they will tell you crime has gone out of control.
Michael Shellenberger, an independent journalist and author, says there has been an effort to hide the rise in crime, and that many people don’t even report crimes anymore because the police won’t do anything about it anyway.
According to Shellenberger, the District Attorney no longer prosecutes many crimes. Overall, far fewer arrests are being made, fewer reports being taken, and fewer crimes being prosecuted. Official data from the San Francisco Police Department shows 3,000 reports of shoplifting in 2021, which seems like a small number, being used by many state officials and the media. However, small businesses say they hardly ever report shoplifting anymore.
To get a more accurate idea of crime rates in California, one must look at the murder rates.
Douglas Eckenrod, former deputy director of California State Parole, breaks down Los Angeles County Sheriff’s data from 2019–2021. The data shows a disconnect between criminal homicide rates in Los Angeles and data on robberies and aggravated assault. This is very odd, he said, as homicide rates should reflect a relationship with the other crime rates.
Specific jurisdictions are breaking that pattern, with one going up and others trending up or down, which in Eckenrod’s view means there is a reporting problem. He explains that you can’t hide the homicide number, because when a person is deceased, and the coroner makes that judgment, it is on record, making the homicide data more trustworthy.
Crime scene tape at a mini mall where a deadly shooting occurred at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, California, on Oct. 12, 2011. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN ALCORN (Photo credit should read JONATHAN ALCORN/AFP via Getty Images)
The Impact of Defunding Law Enforcement
SFPD Officer Richard Cibotti says that in 14 years, he has never seen morale lower in the police force, where they are now losing 5 to 10 officers a month.
“A lot of cops have felt like they’ve lost purpose,” Cibotti says. He explains that many police officers want the job in order to help the community and make a difference. But when they make an arrest and face an investigation from their local oversight board, or the people they arrest don’t face any consequences, it feels like they have lost their purpose and mission.
Another contributor to low police morale is the Civilian Review Board, which has a few thousand pages of policy, greatly increasing the chances of violating one rule or another, no matter how minuscule. Because of this, officers risk facing consequences for almost anything, meaning that, in many cases, it’s safer for them to not do anything at all. If they have to resort to using force in a situation, they could be facing criminal charges. Anti-police rhetoric, lack of respect for law enforcement by the public, criticism, and being wrongly prosecuted cause many to leave their jurisdiction in big cities or simply retire.
With the defunding of law enforcement and loss of personnel, Alex Villanueva, Sheriff of Los Angeles County, says they are the most understaffed agency in the nation.
According to Villanueva, the NYPD has four officers for every 1,000 residents, whereas he has 0.9 for every 1,000. Having 25 percent of his detective division missing results in fewer detectives solving crime, more robberies, and dangerous criminals going free.
“That is the consequence of defunding. That means the bad guys are out there on the street, committing more crimes, victimizing more people, and it takes that much longer to finally get a hold of them,” he said.
Villanueva notes that once criminals are caught and put in jail, there is a lack of personnel to keep them there, which is also due to the defunding of the police department.
Can the Problem Be Fixed?
The documentary gives an overview of the history of California’s criminal justice system and the debate between it being too harsh or too soft on crime. Is there a happy medium? Which paths actually lead to real reform?
From the 1980s to the early 2000s, the California crime rate was at an all-time high. The state approved a series of tough-on-crime initiatives, which led to an increase in the number of incarcerations.
Proponents said harsher punishments would reduce crime rates, which they did. Critics said it made the system too costly and created overcrowding, which it also did.
In 2006, the California prison system reached a breaking point. Overcrowding and poor quality of medical and mental health care eventually, in 2011, led to the United States Supreme Court ruling the system unconstitutional.
Reform followed, with the passing of legislation that reduced sentences, legalized certain crimes, and realigned prisoners, sending them to jail instead of prison. However, most county jails are not built for long-term stays and rehabilitation.
The realignment approach led to jails being overcrowded, which resulted in sheriffs having to release a given number of people. For instance, if someone is charged with a felony and sentenced to two years in a local jail, that jail could be overcrowded and that felon could be released within 10 days.
The county jail population rose drastically after realignment initiatives, and the prison population also dropped. However, the prison population did not decline again until further legislation had to be passed that changed serious crimes to misdemeanors and lessened consequences.
Now, criminals feel confident they won’t be arrested or prosecuted. Security guards are often told to simply stand down, many businesses have closed, and there is virtually no punishment for theft. Even if felons are arrested, due to overcrowding, they won’t see the inside of the jail. Instead, they are given a ticket to show up in court, which they hardly ever do.
Greg Johnson, the founder of an adult rehabilitation program in California, says there is a discrepancy between theory and how these policies are working out in reality.
“The real problem is addiction, and that is not being addressed,” he says, adding that many worry about whether people have a place to stay, or their mental health, but mental health is often driven by addiction.
Because a small percentage of criminals are responsible for most of the crimes, initiatives such as a three-strike system worked well. They put repeat offenders—the worst criminals—away, holding them accountable, and rehabilitating the ones that are rehabilitable.
Villanueva says it’s important to understand that not everyone is rehabilitable, and that is simply a reality.
Steve Cooley says that oftentimes people commit a crime but they do not need to be incarcerated—citing many resources available to keep people out of prison while keeping them productive. However, there are certain criminals who endanger society and need to be incarcerated.
Taking away prior convictions, lessening sentences, etc. does not help the criminal justice system, but rather, results in simply not having a criminal justice system at all, he says.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
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