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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on November 5th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 36

Catch the crooks, then implement judicial 'catch and release' punishment

By RON FINK

Everyone in Lompoc who either lives in one of the gang-infested areas, reads the local newspapers, follows social media, or watches the evening news knows that there is a crime/gang problem in Lompoc.

Two weeks ago, the Canary summed it up this way: “It sounds like a youth violence problem, one that the city of Lompoc should be addressing, starting with elected officials who should be troubleshooting solutions,” (“The blame game,” Oct. 24). But talk is cheap. Politicians and community leaders can filibuster and troubleshoot this issue until the cows come home, but it all boils down to the ability to staff an aggressive crime prevention team. 

In years past, the Lompoc police fielded a G-NET (gang narcotics enforcement team), and the results were reduced gangs and many narcotics-related arrests. The city also had an effective graffiti abatement program, but today graffiti is again abundant in our city.

There is a term for this phenomenon: the “broken window” theory, which suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and blight help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes. But during the last budget debate, Councilmembers Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck, and Victor Vega prevailed and eliminated the code enforcement position and then diluted the anonymous complaint process, thus more “broken windows” can exist unabated.

Many say that the cops have enough money; one of them is Councilman Mosby who desperately wants the legacy of a thoughtful budget hawk. 

As the Canary once again points out: “He [Mosby] was also quick to blame the police department for its own budget woes, saying that police officers got a 9 percent raise just a few short years ago, and it came at the expense of holding three positions vacant. Yeah, maybe Lompoc could put more cops out on the street, but the Lompoc Police Department is having trouble filling the positions that it can pay for—much less the ones that the city can’t pay for.” 

Mosby consistently repeats this diatribe meeting after meeting like a broken soundtrack. This is a shortsighted view on his and his supporters’ part. Even with the pay increase, the LPD still has a pay scale substantially lower than both a city just 20 miles away, another 50 miles away, and the Sheriff’s Department. If you qualified for a position in law enforcement, where would you work? Of course it would be in the highest paid available jurisdiction.

But Police Chief Joe Mariani isn’t just sitting in his office pondering the situation; he is trying to use all the resources available to him to help stem the crime wave. Recently, he convinced his neighbors to help with what he termed a “parole and probation search operation.” He commanded several teams consisting of Lompoc Police, Santa Barbara County Sheriff deputies, Santa Barbara Police, county probation, and state parol officers in a large-scale gang/warrant operation that was conducted in the city.

As the officers searched 60 locations, they captured 11 suspected gang members ranging in age from 18 to 49 years old. Many of these gang members were well known to the LPD and the parole/probation departments. Their crimes included parole violations, failure to appear in court, contempt of court, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of drugs for sale (2 pounds of methamphetamine), and possession of two firearms by convicted felons.

So, 2 pounds of meth, some guns, and several offenders were captured and removed from the streets, right? Well, maybe not. 

Just a couple of days later another gang member was in court to be “punished” for his crime. He was arrested several months ago for firing several shots into an apartment at a rival gang member after his prey ran into the building. He narrowly missed an elderly woman who was asleep inside her apartment. 

But his lawyer and the district attorney arranged a plea bargain so that this gang member would be released after serving only seven months in jail. He was also sentenced to five years’ probation. This “catch and release” policy is common in California. 

My friends, the liberal policies of our elected representatives in Sacramento have created an untenable situation for many of the poorest in our community. Housing regulations have crammed scores of families into very compact living conditions; our schools have failed to produce productive citizens; and lax punishment for crimes committed has made a mockery of the criminal justice system.

Add to that the inability of either elected officials or private investors to create a strong tax base that can support aggressive policing of these neighborhoods, and we wind up with “a crime/gang problem in Lompoc.”

Some opponents of a proposed 1 percent sales tax could use this parole and probation search operation as an example of why they would not support it. The opponents’ narrative could be, “If the PD can muster a large team like this, why should I worry about their future lack of resources?” 

Well, the resources used in operations like this are only available once or twice a year at most. And the large team is a rarity, with many of the LPD members working overtime. If you keep borrowing from your neighbors, someday they won’t answer the phone when you ask for another favor. 

A sustained effort is needed to put pressure on scofflaws like those recently arrested. At a minimum, the proposed tax measure would stave off an inevitable reduction of public safety resources that will result if the city of Lompoc cannot increase revenue.

Think about it—do you want uncontrolled chaos in local gang enclaves, continuing petty thefts, car thefts, and random shootings all over town? Become informed before you vote. 

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send comments through the editor at clanham@santamariasun.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@santamariasun.com.




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