It’s Time for California to Reform Proposition 47

It’s Time for California to Reform Proposition 47

San Francisco Police Department officers respond to crime in San Fransisco, Calif., on March 7, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John McGinness

John McGinness


Updated: 4/17/2024

On the general election ballot in 2014, California voters were given the opportunity to vote for Proposition 47, the so-called Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.
For those who took the time to read the text of the proposition, it was clear that nothing in this law would improve the safety of schools or neighborhoods in the state. On the contrary, the proposition was clearly fraught with destructive ideas.
Crimes such as possession and use of dangerous drugs would be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. Possession of a substance commonly referred to as the “date rape drug” would become an offense that would warrant no jail time whatsoever. Possession of methamphetamine would also be reduced to a misdemeanor. A simple assertion on the part of the offender that the drug was intended for personal use, no matter the quantity, could result in no time in custody.
In the recent years prior to 2014, very few people had been forced into serious time in custody for personal possession of dangerous drugs. However, such an arrest would create the threat of incarceration and would often provide the impetus for a defendant to go to drug court, where they could stipulate to their guilt and complete court supervised treatment for addiction. The success of that program was very impressive. The treatment did not save everyone from the grip of their addiction. However, we did not see droves of people occupying the streets, parks and sidewalks of our communities looking like the walking dead, all the while discarding human waste and dirty hypodermic needles on playgrounds and streets of cities and towns throughout the state.
The loss of the ability to file felony charges in these cases would foreseeably evaporate the participation in drug court, because the incentive to do so would be lost by virtue of removing the criminal-justice imposed consequences for such offenses.
Similarly, changes that would eliminate real consequences for serial theft were a part of this horribly ill-conceived proposition. Previously, repeated theft would lead to jail time felony consequences. The criminal element in society was aware of the consequences of violating California Penal Code Section 666, which made petty theft with a prior conviction a felony that could result in time in-custody, which reduced the incidents of repeated thefts. All the penalty enhancements for repeat theft cases would be eliminated by the passage of this proposition.
It was abundantly foreseeable: If this proposition passed it would incentivize chronic dangerous drug abuse and serial theft. Retailers would have a difficult time staying in business and their incentive to cooperate with the criminal justice system would go by the wayside, because the liability risks of stopping thieves would simply become greater than the benefit to be realized from a system that would not punish offenders.
Similarly, drug addiction as the result of chronic drug abuse, unabated by law, would skyrocket. The quality of life would be profoundly diminished in urban, suburban, and even rural parts of California.
All of this would be abundantly clear to those who took the time and effort to read the proposition and recognize the predictability of the devastating consequences that would follow if this concept became the law of the state.
People are seen looting stores at the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, in a file photo. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

People are seen looting stores at the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, in a file photo. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Regrettably, the good people of California had faith in those they had elected to represent their best interest in state government. Voters were persuaded to support something so seemingly appealing as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. After all, who among us does not want safe neighborhoods and schools?
At the root of the problem is the fact that the summary and title of this proposition was disingenuous. In fact, it was clearly predictable that this proposition would adversely affect public safety in schools, neighborhoods, businesses, and recreation venues to a degree not previously seen in society.
The simple truth is, the voters were duped by dishonest messaging from the very people who had been entrusted with their vote.
Consider the ubiquitous tents in public places, the sickly souls wandering about in a daze, the areas lost for use by law-abiding citizens because of fear for their health and safety. Consider relentless images of smash-and-grab retail thefts that have forced long-time successful businesses to flee the state because they simply cannot endure the current conditions.
Retail and cargo theft have exploded in California. Drug addiction and homelessness have become a humanitarian crisis. The consequences are impacting public safety and the quality of life of all Californians.
Members of the California legislature have promised to fix the problem, as have members of the state’s executive branch. Do not be fooled into believing these false promises. This mess was created by well-intended voters who were lied to. Because Prop. 47 was created by the voters, only the voters can amend it. There was even explicit language in the original text to ensure the law, once passed, could not be modified by anyone other than the voters.
There is good news: The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act is very likely to be on the November ballot and will give the voters an opportunity to ameliorate the adverse consequences of Prop. 47. A significant number of signatures have been submitted to create this opportunity.
Local residents attend a Prop. 47 reform signature collection drive-thru event hosted by KFI radio at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 22, 2024. (Mei He/The Epoch Times)

Local residents attend a Prop. 47 reform signature collection drive-thru event hosted by KFI radio at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 22, 2024. (Mei He/The Epoch Times)

Some have asserted that enforcing laws and imposing consequences on those who violate the law represents a lack of compassion. Who do you care for that you want to see sleeping on a sidewalk on a cold January night, or conversely baking in the heat in California triple-digit summer heat? Who honestly believes that a young offender who begins to steal, and is not persuaded away from that behavior by the imposition of prescribed consequences, is more likely to live a richer, fuller life?
Compassion demands providing the resources and impetus for change.
John McGinness

John McGinness


John McGinness is the retired sheriff of Sacramento County and an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and Leadership Studies.

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