Monday, August 10, 2015

2015: A Good Year to be a Bad Guy

As the “tough on crime” mantra appears to becoming a thing of the past, one thing is for certain, 2015 will be one of the best years in modern history to be a “bad guy.”  Yes, all over the country, our criminal justice system is transitioning away from being tough on criminals to something more of a friend to criminals.  In other words, punishment and accountability are no longer the answers to preventing crime.  Instead, those concepts have been replaced with more politically correct soft on crime concepts of “more understanding” and “more caring” towards those who are accused of crimes.  Now proponents of this approach often say that they aren’t being soft on crime, but rather they are just being “smart on crime.”  While well intentioned I am sure, the reality is that these so called “smart on crime” approaches aren’t ending up with very “smart” results.  In this new proposed model of criminal justice, the real victim is no longer the person who had a crime committed against them, but rather the person who committed the crime.  No longer is it more important to seek justice for the victim, but rather it has become more important to seek justice for the criminal…a far cry from a once effective tough on crime approach and a far cry from something I would call “smart.”

Now many of you reading this blog are probably saying to yourself, “Brian, come on now, you really think that things are that bad?  Do people really care more about the bad guys than the good guys?”  My answer to that is both “no” and “yes.”  First, “no”…I don’t think that the majority of people want criminals to go unpunished and to be roaming our streets without oversight.  Second, that being said, yes…the evidence shows that the people we are letting out of jail are not good people and the proof is in the pudding.  Many of those in leadership positions around the country are making decisions about our criminal justice systems based on ideology and emotion.  And these decisions are not ones that are designed to improve the state of public safety in our communities, but rather improve the state of the criminals.

For example, in California, voters were recently duped by the state’s leadership to pass Proposition 47.  This proposition was called “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”  To this day, I am still not sure what this proposition had to do with Schools or with Safe Neighborhoods.  What this proposition did do however is make being a bad guy in California an easier thing to be.  With county jails being overcrowded (a situation caused by a previous “smart on crime” bill AB109...the topic of another blog post) Proposition 47 was offered as a cure all to the growing problem.   But instead of curing the problem by expanding the capacity of our jail and prison systems to alleviate the overcrowding, Proposition 47 takes the opposite approach.  Proposition 47 waters down the description and classification of a long list of crimes and reduces (almost to the point of eliminating) the punishment for others.  Under Proposition 47, many crimes that were once deemed to be felonies are now being re-classified as only misdemeanors.  Those accused of these new misdemeanor crimes face very little repercussions for committing them.  In fact, most of the time, they are just let out of jail (sometimes just cited and released) with no real supervision and no assurance they will ever come back.  The best we get from a public safety standpoint is a promise by the person that they will return for court. And what happens if they don’t…pretty much nothing.  A warrant is issued and put into a growing pile of warrants for local law enforcement to deal with.  And trust me when I say that those committing crimes are not stupid.  They know that they don’t have to show up for court.  They know that no one will come and get them when they don’t.  And they know that if they do get caught they will just be released again.  Does that really sound like something that is “smart on crime”…does that sound like a formula for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools?

Once again, some of you are probably saying, come on Brian, people aren’t being let out of jail for real crimes.  They are probably only letting out those who have jaywalking tickets and unpaid parking tickets.  Unfortunately, people are getting out for what many consider, including me, “real crimes.”  Under Proposition 47 charges like heroin possession, Rohypnol (date rape drug) possession and cocaine possession are no longer felonies.  Forgetting the question of why someone would possess Rohypnol in the first place (if they weren’t planning on using it), the declassification of these types of charges from felonies to misdemeanors, can have serious consequences.  For example, someone who has been convicted of possessing these types of drugs and has now only been charged with a misdemeanor (or multiple misdemeanors) can still legally go out and buy a gun.  Yep, I said buy a gun.   But to be honest, they might not have to even buy one, because they can just go out and steal one (as long as it is valued under $950) and thanks to Proposition 47 face nothing but the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Proponents of this soft on crime approach will always tell you that it is too early to tell if it is working or not.  Unfortunately, for those of us that live in the community, it isn’t too early.  Property crimes have skyrocketed all over the state.  Auto break-ins and thefts are skyrocketing.  Jails are being re-filled with those that have been released and caught committing additional crimes only to be released again under the same lax supervision standards.  As I mentioned earlier, it is a good time to be a bad guy.

As someone who has worked in the criminal justice system for my entire professional life, I have seen a constant shift between tough on crime and soft on crime stances among our leadership and legislation.  However, to be honest, I have never seen such a monumental shift in one direction that I have seen today.  A shift towards the criminal being treated like the victim and in many cases treated better than the real victim.  Let’s just hope this current shift doesn’t last too long.  Let’s hope that communities raise their voices and demand that the public be protected and victims be supported. Because at the end of the day, crime should never pay and it should never be a good time to be a bad guy.

I look forward to your comments.


  1. Great blog post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I loved reading through this post.