By Marc Debbaudt
“Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Richard Pryor in his filmed comedy performance, Live on the Sunset Strip, tells the story of his wife catching him with another woman. He denies anything is going on, and asks his wife, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” Before Richard Pryor, Chico Marx, playing the character Chicolini while impersonating Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), spoke the line in the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup. That refrain ran through my head when I read the breathless headline, “The Great Experiment: Realigning Criminal Justice in California and beyond” in the March issue of “The Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science (The Annals). Released on February 19th, and chock full of “analyses,” the publication examined “Realignment” and changes in incarceration brought about by the 2011 California Assembly Bill 109. Examining various aspects of the subject, the publication concluded with predictions about “The Future of Decarceration.” (Yes, “decarceration”–I kid you not.)
One article, co-authored by Magus Lofstrom of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), concluded Realignment had no effect on violent crime and had “only a modest increase in property crime.” That conclusion had already been picked up by various news outlets eager to prove that the great public safety “experiment” is working. And then…..on the very same day The Annals was published, Margus Lofstrom and PPIC issued a press release regarding the FBI’s nationwide preliminary crime data for the first six months of 2015. The lead sentence said it all: “Preliminary data from the FBI offer discouraging news about crime trends in California’s largest cities.”
Wait….say what? The release went on: “These increases, particularly in property crime, are widespread and not trivial in magnitude.” I asked myself how in light of his distinguished analyses in the March issue of The Annals could that be, but I read on. “Of the 66 California cities in the data, 49 saw increases in violent crime and 48 experienced increases in property crimes.Many of these cities saw double-digit percent increases-34 in violent crime and 24 in property crime.”
Sadly, as reported by the PPIC, “The increase in property crime in California cities stands in sharp contrast to the other four states with the highest populations: large cities in Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois saw decreases of …property crimes…” No, it can’t be true! The experiment in decarceration proves to be a public safety travesty?
Yep, sometimes timing is everything-on the very same day a publication devoted to trumpeting the success of “decarceration” was published, PPIC had to acknowledge the reality of soaring crime rates in California. And boy did California represent! We are the winners! Five of the top 10 spots nationwide for an increase in Violent Crime Rates went to California cities! Congratulations social engineers and George Gascón! California cities took “win, place, and show” for increases in Property Crime Rates. Unfortunately, Albuquerque, New Mexico sneaked into the #4 spot to break up the superfecta-although California cities rebounded to take 6 of the top 10 spots. PPIC ended their press release with this gem: “If we can identify the factors that are contributing to higher crime rates, we can implement effective crime-preventive strategies.” Really?Gosh, let me think. Could it possibly be the result of “Prop 47” and “Realignment”? No, that would be much too obvious.
As I put down the “discouraging” FBI crime stats and continued to peruse the abstracts of The Annals, another article caught my eye. Written by the Chief Probation Officer of San Francisco City/County, it was headlined ” A Practitioner’s Perspective on Realignment: A Giant Win in San Francisco.” Again, I looked at the FBI Crime Stats: San Francisco was #1 nationwide in the increase in Property Crime Rates, and #8 in the increase in Violent Crime Rates. That’s a “Giant Win?” Did he fall into the rabbit hole? Of course, then I remembered the piece was written by a probation officer who only sees a case if there is an arrest and a conviction. Given the plummeting arrest rates in San Francisco by officers disheartened by George Gascon, the San Francisco DA‘s refusal to file cases, I can understand why the author misinterprets her diminishing caseload as a success. By the way, Gascon, in his own private “experiment” with the lives of citizens in San Francisco, created his own version of Prop 47 and witnessed crime rising as a result, but that didn’t stop him from thereafter foisting his skewed vision on the rest of California as one of Prop 47’s principal proponents.
Besides the deception of its title, calling it the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act when it had nothing to do with safety, one can only wonder what the spin will be by the backers of Realignment and Prop 47 given the drastic and indisputable increases in crime rates witnessed in the first half of 2015 as a result of their great safety “experiment.” Yes, you can be sure they will spin it. And you can be sure they won’t apologize for their “experiment” at your expense having gone awry.
One thing is certain, the victims of crime represented by increasing crime rates — such as the San Francisco pharmacist robbed at gunpoint last Wednesday, or the British tourist fighting for his life after being stabbed in the head during a street robbery in San Francisco at the same location two days later — will certainly use a harsher word than the PPIC to describe the soaring crime rate unleashed by Realignment and Prop 47. I rather doubt “discouraging” will be the word they use.
Marc Debbaudt is the Immediate Past President and President Emeritus of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.