THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - Riverside County law enforcement leaders say the state's AB 109 prison realignment plan and Proposition 47 have resulted in a lot of unintended consequences.
The efforts give shorter jail terms and reduced penalties to criminals who commit some non-violent drug and property crimes.
News Channel 3 hosted the top heads of law enforcement from every community in the Coachella Valley along with the Riverside County Sheriff, the District Attorney and the countys' head of probation.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said, "I can tell you from my perspective, in Riverside County it's a disaster."
Hestrin wasn't alone in sounding an alarm about the local impacts of AB 109 and Prop 47.
Sheriff Stan Sniff says both laws may work well elsewhere, but not in Riverside County where they are allowing criminals to get away with their crimes repeatedly.
Sniff said, "What we find is the jail system today in Riverside County keeps the worst of the worst in custody, and the best of the worst end up getting released."
Those regularly being released, or never even taken in, include auto and property thieves and those who possess date-rape drugs.
People who possess meth, heroin, and cocaine or who steal a handgun less than $950 are also only charged with misdemeanors.
These are no longer felony crimes, and the authorities we spoke to say the criminals know it.
Palm Springs Police Chief Al Franz said, "What we're dealing with here in my community is a 'catch and release' program as we call it."
Indio Police Chief Richard Twiss said, "Sometimes these burglars are released before the filing work makes its way to the DA's office to hold them."
Sniff blames Riverside County's already overcrowded jails, which haven't kept up with the county's rapid growth.
Desert Hot Springs Interim Police Chief, Jeff Kirkpatrick, says the city has seen nearly 100 auto thefts in the first three months of this year, twice last year's pace.
It's accompanied a 120-percent increase of resident parolees.
"My troops have a colloquial phrase. We call them 'Frequent Fliers,' said Kirkpatrick. "Not just for mental health but our criminals as well. That is painful."
Cathedral City Police Chief, George Crum, says his city has also seen a jump in vehicle thefts and burglaries.
"The issue with both AB 109 and combining it with Prop 47," said Crum, "When you look at the totality of that, there's no deterrent remaining for people not to commit crime."
Hestrin said, "It's very difficult to run a criminal justice system when the defendants in court don't take seriously our sentences."
And because of jail overcrowding, county programs to stop people from reoffending are badly damaged.
"You have some offenders who figure out that they can plead guilty and take any sentence," said Hestrin. "They're only going to spend 2 weeks in the jail. For some people it's a cost of doing business," he added.
Hestrin, Sniff and county's head of probation, Mark Hake, want California to return to something called progressive sentencing.
It provides increasingly harsh sentences for people who repeatedly break laws.
"You have to coerce them into a place before you can get them convinced they need to change and that service can assist them and they can benefit from it," said Hake.
"The ones that have taken advantage of our programs and services have turned their lives around," said Hake. "They've put their families back together. They're employed. They're not using drugs," he added.
Without progressive sentencing, offenders don't choose them Hake says.
Sheriff Sniff says state lawmakers also need to pay for more jails instead of simply passing politically popular anti-crime laws.
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"Although there was a lot of red ink in 2011," said Sniff. "The state seems to be awash in cash now but they are still not building additional prison capacity even though California is still growing," Sniff added.
Some legislative efforts are already underway to make date rape drug possession and the stealing of guns felony crimes again.
These law enforcement leaders say the public also needs to read ballot propositions more carefully, including Prop 47.
"I defy you to find one line in that piece of legislation that says one dime of revenue or money that comes back from Proposition 47 goes to one school district in California," said Indio's Police Chief Twiss. "You will not find it in that piece of legislation. 17 But they called it the Safe Schools Act," Twiss added.
The reforms won't be easy, and could be costly, but without them these law enforcement leaders say Riverside County's legal system will continue to suffer as will it's resident's safety and security.