An experiment has been underway in California since 2014, when voters approved Proposition 47: put fewer lawbreakers in jail without increasing crime, reports NPR. The measure converted a list of non-violent felonies into misdemeanors, which translated into little or no jail time for crimes such as low-value theft and possession of hard drugs. Many police are convinced they were right to oppose it. In Huntington Beach, a seaside city in Orange County, Officer Brad Smith says Prop 47 means more drug addicts are out, living on the street. In some places, police don’t bother with booking suspects. They’ll issue citations, along with a court date, and let people go, something some cops derisively call “catch and release.”
Prop 47 is meant to guide more people into programs like drug treatment. Prosecutors and police say it’s harder to get addicts into programs without the threat of prison time. And in the meantime, police say, more drug users are out and at liberty to steal. Huntington Beach police chief Robert Handy says property crimes jumped in the year after Prop 47 passed: Auto thefts up 21 percent; larceny from vehicles up 30 percent; garage burglaries up 33 percent. “A lot of that we attribute to those lower-level drug offenders who are now out and trying to support their habit,” Handy says. Defenders of Prop 47 say police are cherry-picking the data. Will Matthews of Californians for Safety and Justice, the group that sponsored Prop 47, pointed to other California cities where property crime has gone down. “Would these police chiefs you’re talking to give Prop 47 credit for reducing crime in those communities?” he asks.