The law enforcement landscape in Solano County is different than it was a year ago before the state passed AB 109, better known in criminal justice circles as Realignment.
The law, which transfers the responsibility of monitoring, rehabilitating and incarcerating certain non-violent, non-serious offenders from the state to the counties, has affected every facet of law enforcement throughout the state.
Solano County is among them.
“The biggest impact on the Sheriff’s Office has been the change in our inmate population,” said Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton. “More than one-third of our population is directly related to Realignment.”
When a state prisoner is granted parole for a crime that is a non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious offense (non-non-non) they are placed on community supervision in the county in which they were convicted.
Often, the individual fails to comply with the terms of his or her community supervision. But instead of being returned to prison, they serve time in the county jail. If the violation stems from a violent crime the person is returned to prison.
This has caused the jail population to swell within Solano County, as most of the offenders do not commit serious crimes. The AB 109 inmates are more criminally sophisticated and more likely to assault fellow inmates or jail staff Stanton said.
To Probation, not Parole
The staff of Solano County Chief Probation Officer Christopher Hansen is entrusted with supervising the AB 109 inmates who are granted community supervision and return to Solano County for supervision.
“This group is a little different, they are a little more sophisticated,” Hansen said. “They are a higher risk to re-offend.”
The county is now home to roughly 328 AB 109ers. From those approximately 38 percent reside in Vallejo, 31 percent in Fairfield, 15 percent in Vacaville and the rest in the other cities throughout the County according to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department.
With money kicked back to the county from the state, the Department has been able to hire more probation officers to handle the new cases, Hansen said.
Common reasons that are considered a failure to comply with their terms include reporting a bogus address, drug-related charges, and a plethora of other charges such as hanging out with the former associates or consuming alcohol. The level of attention that the Solano County Probation Department gives to the AB 109 offenders is intense, Hansen said.
“They are seen every week,” Hansen said. “We are seeing them more than state parole. We are drug testing them more frequently.”
Not all of the AB 109ers re-offend though says Hansen. So far, seven or more have successfully completed their community supervision and moved on. Many of the people come with little-to-no-job skills, oftentimes without homes to return to, no drivers licenses and many of them have drug addictions.
Solano County Chief Deputy Public Defender Oscar Bobrow said: “I think it’s important for this county to further along the process of creating the solutions that the statute was originally designed to come up with. And to stop thinking about just incarcerating people in a different location … as the answer to the alleged crime problem. The answer is to not to warehouse people for low-level offenses. That’s gotten us nowhere expect crowded prisons. We need to find long-term solutions for people with drug and alcohol problems.”
Bobrow’s office, too, has had to hire additional staff to represent AB 109 offenders charged with crimes.
Last year the county received $3.8 million to facilitate Realignment Sheriff Stanton said. For 2012-2013 the county received $8 million.
“We formed a Community Corrections Partnership (CCP)”, Stanton said. “The CCP determines how we are going to progress with Realignment.”
With the funding that the county has received, they have been able to hire more deputies, probation officers, public defenders and prosecutors and health and human services employees.
“So we are distributing those funds to provide for public safety, to make sure we have some supervision in place. And we are putting some money for programs,” Stanton said. “We have earmarked over $1million for a day center.”
The day center will be located in Vallejo and will serve as a pilot program. If successful, the county will consider opening up another center in Fairfield, Stanton said. The day center is essentially a resource for AB 109 offenders to learn vocational skills, get drug and alcohol treatment and get linked to services.
“It’s basically a one-stop center where a criminal offender can go and theoretically get the help they need to change their lives,” Stanton said.
It’s one aspect of Realignment that many police departments throughout the county agree with.
“The best thing you could do is provide job training,” said Fairfield Police Capt. Darrin Moody. “There is a large percentage of them that are going to need mental health attention. Some of them have mental issues... some just don’t have any job skills. There should be a portion of this money that should be funding valuable programs.”
At the same time, Moody said that enforcement is a large part of the equation as well. Last year, right around the same time that Fairfield began seeing the first batch of offenders return home, the Fairfield Police Department began seeing an increase in the amount of burglaries, thefts and robberies.
And since the property crimes are usually not considered serious, the person is not returned to state prison, but sent to jail for a maximum sentence of six months.
Over in Suisun City, Chief Ed Dadisho said his officers are dealing with more property crimes than ever before. But that’s not the only affect of Realignment, he said.
“These inmates being released are committing property crimes,” he said. “The other impact that we have seen is with the homeless population. A lot of parolees don’t have anywhere to go. The quality of life has gone down because of the homelessness and the crime has increased, the property crimes.”
Dadisho said his line officers deal mostly with the offenders when they commit new crimes, he said.
“We might be in the second year (of Realignment), but we are only in the first throws of it being implemented, so we are just basically getting into this,” he said. “In my opinion it’s not working right. Obviously, my charge is to keep the crime low and keep the quality of life high, and I think that Realignment has affected both in a negative way.”
Dixon Police Chief Jon Cox has been keeping a close eye on the crime in his city.
“Essentially the biggest category that we saw a jump in is burglaries, entering any structure with the intent on committing a theft,” he said. Most of our burglaries tend to be garages, a couple of them are more serious cases, where people forcibly enter doors.”
Cox said his department saw 16 more burglaries than in the first six months of 2011 than it did in the first six months of 2012. Last year, around this time, Dixon had 31 burglaries; this year so far it has had 47.
“How does that relate to Realignment? How much of that can be attributed? Certainly a portion of that is,” Cox said. “When you have more people in the community with a criminal background, you are going to see more crime. The most concerning one for me is robbery... taking something through force or fear, threatening someone or displaying a weapon.”
Last year at this time Dixon had two robberies, this year so far it has had nine, Cox said.
“It’s a 400 percent increase,” he said.
Asked if Realignment is working in his city, Cox said: “It’s a good concept that was just kind of forced on us within a short period of time with a lack of funding.”
Cox said he knows that the three-year decline in crime rate in Dixon can’t last forever and now it seems as if the town is on an upswing.
It’s community involvement and a proactive law enforcement approach that’s been working well in Benicia. The Benicia Police Department has had no issues so far with Realignment offenders, said Benicia Police Lt. Frank Hartig Jr. He said however, that his department remains vigilant.
Funding is in place for this year, however Sheriff Stanton is concerned that subsequent funding is not guaranteed. In November, Gov. Jerry Brown will be asking voters to extend special taxes – a sales tax and a vehicle license fee – that help fund law enforcement initiatives such as Realignment.