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A Fine, Fine Mess

October 1, 2019
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

The cornerstone of any good decision-making process is having a system in place to evaluate whether the decisions you made are actually working out as planned. This applies in the business world and should definitely apply in the world of public policy—but it doesn’t. When it comes to so called “criminal justice reform,” there’s been a distinct absence of analytics. California’s leaders suffer from the worst case of Confirmation Bias ever imagined.

What is confirmation bias? It is the process of interpreting evidence of confirmation of your existing belief or theories. For the “reformers,” fewer arrests, little or no punishment, or fewer people in jail are all intrinsically good. The entire lens by which they view the criminal justice system fixates solely on the “criminal” part, leaving “justice” by the wayside.

Let’s take AB 109. It’s been a resounding success in lowering the State’s prison population. But in the process the State completely overwhelmed our county jail systems, putting higher-level criminals with lower level offenders. They did so without infrastructure for medical care, mental health care or even dental services. They overwhelmed our county probation departments, who lack the resources and tools to deal with the more hard-core offenders, including those who need more supervision to prevent them from reoffending.

With Proposition 47, felony arrests are down. A success! Of course, they are! Felonies are not felonies anymore and citations are being issued instead of arrests being made. But is that good? Well, it was until our City saw an explosion of auto thefts and auto burglaries.

And drug-related arrests are down, which of course is also good. Except our drug courts, an effective path to drug treatment, have been all but eliminated and property crimes related to drug abuse have skyrocketed. One only has to look out on almost any San Francisco street to see poor souls literally bleeding out from their veins as they die a slow, punishing death in front of our eyes. It’s amazing that the reformers are most passionate and loudest about finding ways to prolong the suffering, such as needle exchanges, then they are about addressing our drug crisis—or even admitting we have one.

Now the first waves of Prop 57 inmates who will benefit from shorter sentences, regardless if they have been convicted of actual violent crimes like child sex trafficking or felony domestic violence. Because even though the law enforcement community was absolutely right about Prop 57 allowing violent offenders to qualify for early release, the reformers were too proud to fix the problem before it went to the ballot. Again, better to have the victory of shorter sentences than to actually protect the public.

We saw these issues play out recently when a woman was viciously attacked while just trying to get home. Our entire system, from the Judge, to the Public Defender to even the District Attorney put zero time and attention into the actual victim in this case. The entire system focuses on the criminal, the victim is an afterthought. He’s homeless. He’s mentally ill. Let’s make sure he gets help; let’s make sure he doesn’t spend an unnecessary hour in jail. It’s not his fault. Until that security video went viral, no one cared about the victim. Then, when confronted with a vicious attack on video and an angered and appalled public, well, they were quick to change course. That’s proof that they know they’re wrong. And hopefully, a signal that reformers can no longer hide behind false ideals that are not connected to reality.

San Francisco is considered one of the most politically “liberal” cities in the nation. Yet, any officer who works patrol can tell you that our residents are fed up. They are mad. Some have lost hope, most have lost their patience. And they’re realizing that when groups like the ACLU sold them reform dressed as “public safety” they were lied to, they feel like they were sold a bill of goods and they have serious buyer’s remorse.

Our city is in serious crisis, and it’s going to take our leaders, many of whom championed these reform efforts, to admit that they didn’t get everything right and that change must happen now. They must evaluate the impacts of their decisions. The SFPOA has made it clear, we stand ready to work with anyone who is committed to cleaning up this fine, fine mess we have on our hands.