Realignment Perplexing Police

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Local police officials have noted spikes in property theft crimes and a state-funded data-sharing effort between police departments to get to the bottom of it is being launched.

Cities get state money related to AB109, the state’s public safety realignment law, and its use for data sharing was described at the April 17 meeting of the Community Corrections Partnership, which includes agencies related to criminal justice.

Bill Damiano, the county’s chief probation officer and the partnership’s chairman, told the partnership’s members that a group of local police officials led by Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman propose uses for the AB109 money. Damiano said the chiefs want to contract with a consultant to “help pull their data together and figure out a way for us to manage data on the front end for the cases that aren’t getting booked into the jails.”

Realignment changes sentencing for non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual felony offenders and parole violators, sending them to county jail and into the county’s probation system instead of to prison.

The new system prioritizes incarceration of the felony offenders and in order to make room for them in jail, pre-trial defendants are having shorter stays and lower-level offenders are being cited and released.

The goal of the data-sharing effort is to identify “gaps in our information” on arrest incidents. “A lot of the chiefs have been sharing frustration, and I think it’s showed in the newspaper articles, that lower level offenders are recycling back and forth – they’re not getting booked into jail, they’re just bouncing off the door because the jail’s full,” Damiano said in an interview after the meeting.

Offenders that commit crimes in different areas of the county aren’t being tracked because data hasn’t been shared, Damiano continued. County judges have noted that more offenders fail to appear for their court dates because they know they won’t be jailed for it.

Alternatives to jail, like electronic monitoring and jail itself are options but Damiano said that “until we have the data to really analyze it, it’s really hard to find a solution.”

One of the presumed effects of not jailing lower-level offenders is a recent spike in property crimes in the cities and the county’s unincorporated areas. Damiano said enhanced data pooling will reveal more about what’s going on and why.

“Everybody’s talking about increased arrest rates but it’s pretty vague because we can’t talk about who it is,” he said.

Damiano was invited to a recent police chiefs’ meeting on the issue. “I said, it’s not helpful to the citizens if we can’t define the problem to them clearly,” he said. “If we can identify the problem children in the community, we can develop a solution but in the meantime, just saying we have a problem doesn’t satisfy anyone and it doesn’t help protect your belongings in your car or your house.”

The screening of lower-level offenders has prevented jail overcrowding. During the partnership meeting, Fred Campbell of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Research Foundation said members of the partnership will be “pleasantly surprised” by some of the findings of his realignment data report, which is due next month.

Campbell said that he’s analyzed the jail’s population profile and found that “a pretty significant shift” has occurred since August of last year. Inmates being held ahead of their trials are spending less time in jail, and a matrix system that releases lower-level offenders when jail capacity is reached has prevented overcrowding.

The analysis shows that jail population has actually been “driven down” since realignment began in October 2011. At this point, one out of every three inmates in jail is in the realigned category, a proportion that’s “gradually growing,” said Campbell.

In an interview after the meeting, Campbell said that the matrix system and “all the efforts to manage the jail population appear to be working,” with the length of pre-trial stays reduced and misdemeanor offenders screened out to make room for the realigned felony offenders.

“Those are the types of areas we’ve looked at that show a clear commitment to implementing the law and dealing with some of the crowding and other issues you had in the county jail system,” he continued.

Before the matrix was introduced, the average daily jail population was at 393 inmates and at times it significantly topped 400 inmates. The jail’s capacity is 391 inmates.

Campbell also noted the county’s “high level of cooperation and planning” between agencies and social services providers. “This isn’t typically the case in a lot of counties, particularly smaller ones.”

The next partnership’s next meeting is set for May 22 and Campbell will deliver a presentation on the completed data analysis.