Criminal Justice

Some Suspect Rise in Petty Crime in California Is Tied to Supreme Court Decision

Some police officials are blaming a rise in petty crime in California on a 2011 Supreme Court decision upholding a cap on the state prison population.

In a reaction to the decision, California overhauled sentencing in October 2011 to send more low-level criminals to county custody, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Many counties are imprisoning lower-level criminals for shorter periods or not at all, opting instead for probation, electronic monitoring or home detention, the story says.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the period immediately after the change in the law, property crime rose 4.5 percent compared to the year before, the first increase since 2004. Statewide crime statistics are not available for 2012, but some local figures show a continuing upward trend, according to the story. Property crimes rose 5 percent through November 2012 in Santa Rosa, for example. Monterey County and Sacramento also saw additional property crimes in 2012.

Scott Seaman, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told the Wall Street Journal that many members of the organization believe the increase “has some relationship to the change in how offenders are either supervised or are present in their communities” stemming from the legal changes. But Gil Duran, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said it’s too soon to tell.

“Any respectable criminologist will tell you that [they] don’t determine overall trends in a year or two,” Duran told the newspaper.

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