Some local law enforcement agencies already have begun implementing Proposition 47 – the initiative voters adopted last week that reduces criminal penalties for some drug and property crimes – with officers in Sacramento citing rather than arresting some suspects and the Sacramento County sheriff releasing 50 suspects whose alleged crimes suddenly have been shifted from felonies to misdemeanors.
Officers are being briefed on the changes Proposition 47 makes in state law, primarily reducing crimes such as drug possession, commercial burglary or theft from felonies to misdemeanors if the amount involved is worth $950 or less.
“I don’t believe that we’ve had any extreme results,” Sacramento police spokesman Officer Justin Brown said Monday. “I received information from one officer that he cited and released one suspect regarding drug activity.
“So, instead of taking someone to jail on a felony, the statute allows an officer to cite and release someone for certain crimes. It’s not really a major change for us to cite and release rather than taking them to jail.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Brown emphasized that suspects who are cited still have to show up for court dates and that citations are not offered to people who have other issues that require them to be jailed.
“As long as the individual we come into contact with meets the requirements for release – and they’re not intoxicated or don’t have an outstanding warrant or something like that – then they’re going to be cited and released just like any other misdemeanor,” he said. “We still write a report, we still book evidence that we need to book. If it’s a drug, we book that evidence.”
The measure, which passed with more than 58 percent of the vote and took effect immediately, has far-reaching repercussions on how some criminal charges will be handled from now on.
For instance, once the measure passed, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department announced it had begun a review of 420 suspects in its jails and subsequently determined that 50 of them were eligible for misdemeanor rather than felony charges, Sgt. Lisa Bowman said.
Those 50 were released last week, although Bowman said she did not have a breakdown on what types of crimes they had originally been charged with committing. Sacramento Main Jail’s population Monday was 2,129 inmates, with a capacity of 2,432, and Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center’s population was 2,127 inmates, with a capacity of 2,627.
El Dorado County sheriff’s officials reported they had released three inmates since the measure passed.
In Citrus Heights, where Police Chief Christopher Boyd campaigned against Proposition 47 as a measure that would increase crime, officers are being briefed on how to comply with the new law.
“The biggest thing we’ve done is education in our patrol briefings,” Sgt. Michael Wells said.
Wells added that some officers who had been scheduled to make court appearances to testify in cases they handled have been getting calls from prosecutors telling them not to bother, because the case has been downgraded from a felony.
Other departments were working to create policies to handle implementation of the measure and said they had no information on how they planned to proceed.
Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, which spearheaded the passage of the measure, said she had not heard of any agencies refusing to comply with the new law.
“We’re glad that the law is being implemented and things are proceeding ahead with the changed practices that have to happen,” she said. “We have not had any issues of noncompliance.”
The law is designed to reduce inmate populations in state prisons and county jails, creating savings that can be funneled into rehabilitation and mental health programs to reduce recidivism.
Although most law enforcement leaders opposed the measure strongly, voters rejected their warnings and passed the initiative, which allows individuals with prior felony convictions to return to court and petition to have their convictions downgraded to misdemeanors.
Inmates already serving time for crimes listed under the measure also can ask a court to reduce their convictions and allow their release, a provision that could affect 10,000 prisoners. That part of the new law does not apply to defendants with past convictions for crimes such as murder, rape or child molestation.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.