COMMUNITY VOICES: The troubling trend of crime in California

If you are noticing an uptick in the number of property crime and theft stories from friends and neighbors, you are not alone. Rates of these types of crimes are increasing statewide at an alarming rate and it’s only getting worse.

Over the years, poor policies of early release from prison and proposals like Propositions 47 and 57 are reasons why we are seeing this troubling trend, which is why I am supporting a new initiative that will reform our public safety laws.

Residents in our community and throughout our state are rightfully growing more frustrated. In Kern County, almost every type of crime has increased since 2014 (28 percent increase in vehicle theft, 23 percent increase in robbery and 71 percent increase in homicides). In San Francisco, car break-ins are at epidemic levels — averaging 73 break-ins per day! Law enforcement groups have repeatedly warned how unsafe our communities are becoming as a result of California’s early release policies. Prior initiatives, like Prop 47 in 2014 and Prop 57 in 2016 have allowed individuals to be released as a result of their crimes being reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors.

Under current law, violent crimes such as rape of an unconscious person, trafficking a child for sex, assaulting a police officer and other similar crimes are not classified as violent felonies. Furthermore, Prop 47 changed the threshold for theft to be considered a felony to $950, which has spurred a spike in theft right below that threshold. After Prop 47 passed in 2014, grocery store operators in California have seen unprecedented increases in shoplifting, with some reporting up to 150 percent. The value of property stolen in 2015 was $2.5 billion, which was a 13 percent increase since 2014 — the largest single-year increase in 10 years.

The growing crime rates, the vandalism, the drug problems and the homelessness epidemic are all feeding into each other, which has hurt the quality of life of our communities. We need action right now — and voters will have that opportunity in November 2020 by voting for the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2020.

This ballot initiative will prevent the early release of violent felons by adding truly heinous crimes, such as human trafficking of a child and drive by shooting, which are actually considered violent felonies under the law and therefore not eligible for early release. This initiative will also revise the theft threshold by adding a felony for serial theft — when a person is caught for the third time stealing with a value of $250.

Public safety is a bipartisan issue. All California families, regardless of generation, demographics or socioeconomic status, all want to live and work in safe communities where we do not have to live in fear. This is why the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act will be one of the most important ballot measures facing voters in the upcoming elections.

As I travel up and down the state, I hear the anxiety of so many individuals and families who are concerned about homelessness and crime that is destroying their neighborhood. It is my commitment to work tirelessly with law enforcement groups, local government leaders and crime victim groups to get this public safety initiative passed so we can put California back in the right direction.

Assemblymember Vince Fong represents California’s 34th Assembly District, which encompasses most of Kern County including Bakersfield, Bear Valley Springs, China Lake, Frazier Park, Golden Hills, Inyokern, Lebec, Oildale, Ridgecrest, Taft and Tehachapi.