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Behind the Badge Dealing with new changes in prison realignment

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Lt. Chris Piombo

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011 12:00 am

Like the Steelers defense makes adjustments at halftime to counter the Raiders anemic offensive strategy, California law enforcement agencies are constantly modifying their tactics to deal with changes in the legal landscape. These changes, lurking about like the defrosted alien in the remake of "The Thing," can often affect the safety of the public if agencies do not deal with them effectively.

Assembly Bill 109, or the California prison realignment plan, went into affect a few weeks ago. The simple explanation is that over a two-year period, the population in California prisons must be reduced by 33,000 inmates. This will ease the overcrowding the U.S. Supreme Court considers to be cruel and unusual punishment. Prisoners who are convicted of certain crimes who would normally be sentenced to state prison will be sent to county jail to serve their time instead. County probation officers, not parole officers, will monitor people convicted of non-violent offenses who have been paroled from prison. People who were sent back to a prison like Duel Vocational Institute in Tracy for violating the terms of their parole will now be sent to the local county jail. Supporters of the realignment say it will save money and the non-violent offenders will be closer to home where they will have better access to treatment programs.

In theory, it looks good. But everyone knows most of the beds in the county jails from El Centro to Crescent City are full. By sentencing more serious offenders to county jail instead of prison for years at a time, counties will be forced to release non-violent offenders from custody. Those non-violent offenders are the people who take the purse out of your shopping cart, steal your mail and use it to commit identity theft, rip the copper wiring out of the lights at your kid's Little League field, or bust into your garage when you're on vacation. More than once. A lot of people who should be locked up in county jail will be out stumbling down the street like some pasty-faced guy in a porkpie hat Simon Cowell embarrassed and kicked out of his backyard on "The X Factor. "

Inmates will be serving their sentences in county jail instead of prison for things including involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, killing or injuring a police officer while resisting arrest, participating in a lynching, possession of weapons of mass destruction, possessing explosives, threatening a witness or juror, and using arson or explosives to terrorize a health facility or church and a couple of types of assaults not appropriate for people who are reading this while eating breakfast.

The impact on local law enforcement and you as a Lodi resident is yet to be determined. I'd like to say the glass is half-full, but the non-violent offender swiped the glass. Do we give up and let Lodi end up like Hill Valley when Marty McFly messed up the space time continuum? Slackers!

County probation is doing a great job adapting to the new situation. They are hiring additional personnel and reassigning officers to deal with the new people out on the street. I spoke with a representative of the state Attorney General's office last week and she told me about a sophisticated system that will help the state monitor parolees.

In addition, state parole apprehension teams and the U.S. Marshal's service come to our city to assist us with the parolees on a frequent basis.

Our department added a part-time crime analyst recently who identifies trends and maintains updated information on specific offenders in our city so our officers in the field know where the parolees are, what they've done, and who they are hanging out with. Our Special Investigations Unit continues to focus on repeat violent offenders and the people who associate with them. And we've promoted two new patrol supervisors who bring a wealth of street experience and energy to their shifts.

Let's be honest. If you base your attitude on the headlines and news people yelling at you on television, you'll end up pretty discouraged. It would be easy for us as a police department to hunker down and hold the fort until Captain America or someone else in tights arrives. The citizens of our city could simply choose to barricade themselves in their homes and wait for the non-violent zombies to come clawing at the door. But that's not how it's done in Lodi. We live on an island. It's a special place in a crazy world, kind of like the Midwest without the tornados. Our department, along with every one of the agencies in our area, are adapting our strategies, redeploying our personnel, and working even harder with the public to make sure the challenges like prison realignment are overcome.

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