Susanville residents beware — the number of crimes committed in our city is rising dramatically, and the new chief of police says several recent state laws impede law enforcement’s ability to stop it. Tom May spoke up during public comment at the Susanville City Council’s Wednesday, April 19 meeting and sounded the alarm about the dramatic increase in crime within the city. “There is a crime spree going on right now, an epidemic,” May said. “Everybody I meet has a story of a car being stolen, a house being broken into. I’m glad to see law enforcement is here, and I’m sure they’re aware of this.”
One of May’s big concerns about the escalation of crime was the burglars are stealing guns, so now they’re armed. “It’s getting worse, and something bad is going to happen,” May said. “They’ve got guns now … Good guy, bad guy, somebody’s going to get shot … I’ve lived here a long time, and anyone who’s got their finger on the pulse of this knows this is real. There’s never been anything like what’s going on right now … Something big is going on.”
After the meeting, this newspaper asked John King, Susanville’s new police chief, about May’s assertion. And the chief agreed. Chief ’s response How bad is the increase in crime in Susanville? “Astronomical across the state,” King said. “It’s the whole state. Everybody’s talking about it.” King said Jerry Dyer, Fresno’s chief of police, recently said there’s been a 50 percent increase in crime statewide.
According to King the dramatic increase in crime is due to laws passed by the state legislature that limit the sentences criminals will face when they’re arrested and convicted of crimes. Luckily, he said small, rural communities like Susanville are not being hit as hard as the large urban areas of the state, but we’re feeling the effects just the same. Those state laws include AB 109 (the California Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011), Proposition 47 (the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative) and Proposition 57 (the California Parole for Non- Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative), a state Constitutional amendment. “Those laws reclassified a lot of crimes and raised the threshold of some crimes to extraordinary levels,” King said.
For example, a thief must shoplift $950 worth of merchandise before his crime becomes grand theft, King said. King cited another hypothetical example — a documented gang member rapes a female at gunpoint.
Before these new laws took effect, that gang member could be looking at 18 years behind bars. But now that those enhancements for being a known gang member and for using a gun have been removed, that gang member may be sentenced to only two or three years in prison.
“There’s no fear of the consequences anymore,” King said. “Mere possession of methamphetamine used to be a felony. It’s an epidemic … That’s been declassified, and now it’s no different than drunk in public. Marijuana, it’s been declassified to almost a pointless crime. But none of that stops or plugs a hole in the amount of damage those people are doing.”
At the center of the problem is the criminal’s awareness of the implications of these new laws.
“The criminals are emboldened by these new rules,” King said. “They’re using the laws against us.” King railed against the new state laws.
“It’s a horrible idea,” King said. “It’s putting everybody at risk. We know about it.
The citizens are not wrong. Unfortunately, in California people have felt isolated from the consequences of their electoral decisions, and now it’s slapping us in the face. People are passing these laws, and they’re putting people in power to promote these laws, and now we’re dealing with it.”
King said it’s unfortunate that a citizen would have to come before the city council and complain about crime, but the local police department has to work within the state laws. “We’re trying to do what we can,” King said. “There are certain laws that have been changed to the degree I can’t arrest somebody or I can’t expect to put them away for a certain amount of time. They’re going get booked, they’re going to get a public defender assigned to them and then at best they’re going to get probation monitoring for three years, and that’s probably going to be it.”
How do the criminals respond to law enforcement these days? “They don’t even run from us anymore,” King said. “Understand when we catch the person, in certain circumstances we may not be able to do anything. We know it’s a crime. We know it’s wrong. And the best we can do is write them a ticket, document it and send it to the district attorney. That’s the problem. So even when the citizens try hard, they don’t get the results they want.”
King said “target hardening” is the best action citizens can take. “Citizens need to increase their knowledge,” King said, “and that’s something we want to partner with them on.”
King said he’s new to the job and has many responsibilities right now, but he plans to offer a program to assist residents and businesses limit their exposure to crime in the near future.