By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
VISALIA – Tulare County law enforcement is at their wit’s end over the State of California’s approach to crime. District Attorney Tim Ward said at a press conference last Thursday, April 19 that he is fed up with the soft hand of justice approach the State uses on criminals.
“Enough is enough in the State of California with the constant onslaught of changing rules coming out of Sacramento and the lack of punishment where appropriate on certain individuals that are preying on our communities,” Ward said.
He pointed to propositions 47 and 57 that were passed in 2014 and 2016 respectively as a main cause. Proposition 47 has reduced penalties for nonviolent and nonserious crimes to misdemeanors, where Proposition 57 increased parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolence crimes and gave them more opportunities to earn credits for good behavior.
Now the District Attorney, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and key law enforcement departments are looking to the federal justice department for help through Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is a nationwide effort to reduce gun and gang crime in America by networking existing local programs of the like crime and providing these programs with additional tools necessary to be successful.
Incepted in 2001, approximately $2 billion has been committed to the initiative. The funding is being used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, distribute gun lock safety kits, deter juvenile gun crime, and develop and promote community outreach efforts as well as to support other gun and gang violence reduction strategies.
Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said that while crime in Tulare County is declining, the amount of illegal firearms the department is seizing has gone up. He noted VPD seized 205 illegal firearms in 2016 and then 250 in 2017, representing a more than 20% increase. Salazar added the department is already on pace to surpass 2017’s seizures this year.
“[Project Safe Neighborhoods] is just another tool to work with our federal partners to target these types of crimes and make sure that criminals that have firearms are off the streets,” Salazar said at the press conference.
Initiating the conversation, Ward said he had a conversation with Governor Jerry Brown over options to reduce illegal gun possession by increasing the penalty for illegal firearm possession. But he said that his efforts in seeing that approach implemented has been completely unsuccessful. As a result Ward turned to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California McGregor Scott.
Scott said that the District has been dealing with criminals with extensive rap sheets and multiple prison stays. From the last three weeks leading up to last Thursday Scott says the District indicted a man with eight prior felony convictions and still managed to get a gun. The District indicted a man out of Sacramento as well with five prior prison commitments and had a gun plus meth, and as of last week they indicted a man with multiple felony convictions, was a “gangbanger” and had been convicted of being an accessory to murder.
“This is a focused approach to take away the worst of the worst offenders and get them out of the County,” Scott added.
The effectiveness of the program has shown some promise according to studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice. Researchers analyzed violent crime statistics in cities with populations greater than 100,000. They compared 82 PSN cities to 170 cities without PSN and found a 4.1% decline in violent crime in cities where PSN was implemented compared to a 0.9% decline in cities where it was not.
The researchers also used crime statistics to analyze whether the level of PSN implementation affected violent crime. They found a 13.1% decrease in violent crime in PSN target cities with a high level of federal prosecution. In stark contrast, during this same period of time, they found an increase of 7.8% in violent crime in cities without PSN in low federal prosecution districts.