Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin calls the county’s crime increase “troublesome,” putting the blame squarely on the 2012 prison realignment plan and the 2014 Proposition 47 releasing “non-violent” prisoners early and making any thefts valued under $900 misdemeanors.
His views as District Attorney came in his Thursday, March 2, Public Safety Town Hall meeting in Temecula’s City Hall attended by local law enforcement, city and state officials and residents of Murrieta and Temecula.
“Now, Proposition 57, that just is the most dangerous of the three,” Hestrin said.
Hestrin said that the proposition, which passed in November, even lets violent criminals loose if Sacramento and prison officials see them as “rehabilitated.” He warned that this and the other propositions that passed were done with misleading information put out by their proponents that brought the public for vote for them.
When Hestrin was asked, “Who passed that law,” his reply was, “You all did.”
“These are very problematic laws that have taken the teeth out of prosecutors and police officers hands,” Hestrin said, recalling a recent report from a business owner after the passage of Prop. 47. He said a known thief who had been stealing from the merchant’s store was caught stealing again and working a calculator on his phone. The arresting officers found out the thief had been adding up what he was stealing to make sure he was not taking more than $900 in merchandise so, if caught, he would only be charged with a misdemeanor, no matter how times he was caught.
This was the result of Proposition 47 that only puts those committing non-violent crimes in jail not prison. With the early release law, criminals can now be released from jail just a few days later and out stealing again, Hestrin mused.
Hestrin said since the laws were passed in an attempt to reduce the population in overcrowded prisons, 10,000 to 15,000 prisoners have been released. Car thefts and Driving While Under the Influence are also affected by the early release laws.
One woman in the audience asked why these laws are staying on the books, when her husband was killed by an alleged illegal immigrant suspected of driving his pickup truck under the influence of marijuana. Hestrin noted that specific cases, like hers, could not be discussed in public since the case was still under investigation, but was a possible issue.
Another man stood up, saying loudly, “We need more prisons. We need more prisons, no matter what the cost.”
Hestrin told the audience some of the things his office and law enforcement are doing to reduce the increase in county crime, but noted that it is still difficult for his 240 lawyers and court judges to handle the 65,000 to 75,000 criminal cases they get a year.
He said county law enforcement’s special agencies with undercover officers are going after the growing number of crime syndicates and cartels in county because they believe it is those groups which are responsible for making Riverside County “a gateway” for the drug traffic. The Riverside County Crime Impact Team has 18 full time investigators working on these criminal groups with help from state and federal law enforcement teams including ICE.
He called the “sanctuary city” idea being promoted by some in Riverside and other cities in the county “a really bad idea.
“It is not legal. It is not constitutional,” he said.
Hestrin said looking at the immigration and criminal problems in Riverside County, that his office has “the highest conviction rate in the state of California,” and promised “we will send them to prison.”
He urged those in attendance to be proactive in joining his office’s “District Attorney’s Crime Prevention Program” that is reaching out to the community’s children through the schools, juvenile hall and churches for help and seeking available public safety education grants. He said one of the programs is finding former criminals going into these places to tell children about the consequences of gang membership and criminal acts.
Hestin, who was joined by 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington at the Town Hall meeting, said, “the county is out of money again and does not want these programs cut.” Hestrin said they are still running through grant programs.
Murrieta Police Chief Sean Hadden spoke of one of his city’s successful crime prevention programs spearheaded by a Youth Accountability Team, which by reaching out to youths in the community, has an 80 percent success rate in keeping juveniles away from criminal acts.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, attending the town hall meeting, told the audience that there are 57 members on the California Senate side who are working to reverse some of the laws creating the increased crime rates in Temecula and its surrounding cities. She noted that Riverside County’s criminal recidivism rate is reaching 70 percent meaning that many criminals after serving time for their crimes commit more crimes after release. That 70 percent is from a small group of returning criminals.
“We must retool our law enforcement to combat street crime in the cities as well,” Hestrin said. He pointed to Hemet as a particularly impacted city by increasing street crimes committed by released prisoners and the homeless.
“Please, say a little prayer for us and our law enforcement officers,” said Melendez toward the end of the town hall meeting.
Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards, Lake Elsinore Councilman Steve Manos, Murrieta Councilman Kelly Seyarto, Menifee Councilwomen Lisa Sobeck, Temecula Councilman Jeff Comanchero, Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Matt Rahn, Riverside County Sheriff Lt. Lisa McConnell and John Hunneman representing California Senator Jeff Stone, were in attendance along with other area city officials and tribal members.
Hestrin said the next in a series of monthly Public Safety Town Hall meetings he is conducting will be held in Blythe in April to discover the area residents’ public safety concerns.