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Non-revocable parole creating problems for police on streets

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Posted: Monday, May 24, 2010 12:00 am

At the end of their shifts, our patrol supervisors forward a summary of the day's events to the command staff.

I noticed a reoccurring theme in the summaries this past week. Parolees, or people who had been released from prison with the agreement that they be monitored and supervised by a parole agent, were involved in the commission of the crimes.

Last Friday, Special Investigations Unit detectives and parole agents went looking for a parolee on Eden Street. He left prior to their arrival but they caught another parolee crawling out of a basement window. Two days later SWAT was called out to search for a parolee who ran from officers, tossing a loaded handgun on the ground as he ran off. The next day two young boys were robbed at knifepoint on the Tokay High campus. It was a Sunday afternoon and classes were not in session. Officers arrested a parolee a short distance away and charged him with the robbery. A few days later officers found a parolee-at-large hiding on the roof of a house on Oak Street.

Most people don't realize "non-revocable parole" went into effect in California on Jan. 25. This law authorizes the state to release thousands of "non-violent" offenders from prison without placing them on traditional parole. In other words, a parole agent will not check up on them and they cannot be returned to prison unless they commit another crime. The intent was to ease the overcrowding, reduce the budget and allow agents to concentrate on more violent offenders.

Proponents say only non-violent prisoners are being released on the streets of our communities. A non-violent parolee is defined as a person who was not sent to prison for a "serious felony," who did not commit a serious disciplinary offense while in prison, who is not a member of a prison gang, and someone Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation determined was not likely to re-offend.

Three of the parolees I mentioned earlier were on parole for "non-violent" offenses. The guy who was crawling out of the basement window was on parole for dealing drugs. The man who robbed the two boys at Tokay High was on parole for possession of stolen property. The woman who hid on the roof was also on parole for possession of stolen property. The suspect who tossed the gun was on parole for burglary, which, according to the penal code, is a "serious" offense. He was convicted of burglary after he entered an empty house and took a computer.

One of the obvious problems with non-revocable parole is that it puts more parolees on the street at a time where all public agencies, including state parole, are having a hard time maintaining effective staffing levels. The question remains whether it's going to cost more to track down, arrest and convict the "non-violent" offenders than it would be to have them complete their sentences in prison.

The passage of non-revocable parole serves as a vivid reminder that the decisions made by legislators in Sacramento have a real impact on the quality of life in our city. Releasing thousands of parolees into our communities where there are few jobs, dwindling mental health and rehabilitation services, and fewer cops is a "perfect storm."

But the situation in Lodi is far from hopeless. Our local parole agents are dedicated professionals who are doing their best in these trying times. They work closely with our officers to make sure people on traditional parole in our area are monitored. The agents participate in operations sponsored by our department that target parolees, probationers and gang members in the Lodi area every three months. And the parole fugitive apprehension teams visit our town on a regular basis.

Even though the results of non-revocable parole might seem overwhelming, we will continue to work diligently with parole and the members of our community to focus our resources and keep our citizens safe.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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