California’s Proposition 47 was intended to reduce crowding in the state's overwhelmed prisons, save money and treat low-level criminals with more compassion. In the 11 months since its passage, says the Washington Post, more than 4,300 prisoners have been resentenced and released. Drug arrests in Los Angeles County have dropped by a third. Jail bookings are down by a quarter. Hundreds of thousands of ex-felons have applied to get their previous drug convictions revised or erased. There have been other consequences, which police departments and prosecutors refer to as the “unintended effects”: Robberies up 23 percent in San Francisco. Property theft up 11 percent in Los Angeles. Certain categories of crime are rising 20 percent in Lake Tahoe, 36 percent in La Mirada, 22 percent in Chico and 68 percent in Desert Hot Springs.
It's too early to know how much crime can be attributed to Prop 47, police chiefs caution, but what they do know is that instead of arresting criminals and removing them from the streets, their officers have been dealing with the same offenders again and again. Caught in possession of drugs? That usually means a misdemeanor citation under Prop 47, or essentially a ticket. Caught stealing something worth less than $950? That means a ticket, too. Caught using some of that $950 to buy more drugs? Another citation. “It's a slap on the wrist the first time and the third time and the 30th time, so it's a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card,” said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. “We're catching and releasing the same people over and over.” Officers have begun calling those people “frequent fliers,” offenders who knew the specifics of Prop 47 and how to use it to their advantage. A thief in San Bernardino County was caught shoplifting with his calculator, which he said he used to make sure he never stole the equivalent of $950 or more.