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Study: Reduced criminal penalties contributed to more thefts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California voters’ decision to reduce penalties for drug and property crimes in 2014 contributed to a jump in car break-ins, shoplifting and other theft, researchers reported Tuesday.

Thefts increased about 9 percent in 2016, or about 135 more thefts per 100,000 inhabitants than if tougher penalties were all that remained, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found.

Thefts from motor vehicles is responsible for about three-quarters of the increase. San Francisco only recorded more than 30,000 car break-ins last year, which the authorities largely due to gangs. Shoplifting may be leveling off, the researchers found, but there is no sign of a decrease in thefts from vehicles.

Proposition 47 reduced criminal penalties for drug possession, theft, shoplifting, identity theft, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks and check forgery crimes that can lead to prison sentences for crimes that are often minimum terms of imprisonment.

While researchers can link the measure to more theft, they found it did not cause the a rise in violent crime.

Violent crime spiked by about 13 percent after Proposition 47 passed, but the researchers said that the trend began earlier, and was primarily the result of unrelated changes in crime reporting by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police department.

The FBI a broader definition of sexual crimes in 2014, while the LAPD in the improvement of crime reporting after previously underreported violent crimes. If it wasn’t for those changes, the researchers found the California violent crime rate would have increased by 4.7 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Researchers compared California’s crime trends with those in other countries with historically similar trends. They find the increase in California’s violent crime rate was less than that of comparison states, but robberies jump in California as they declined elsewhere.

California still has an historically low crime rate, despite recent changes in the criminal justice system focused on reducing mass incarceration, and increase rehabilitation and treatment programs, said Lenore Anderson, director of Californians for Safety and Justice, who led the drive to pass Proposition 47.

“This report shows that we are making progress,” she said in a statement, a call for less spending on prisons and more on programs to help reduce the cycle of crime.

The ballot measure led to the lowest arrests in the state’s history in 2015 as the experts said that the police often ignore crimes, a minimum sentence.

Jail bookings in 12 provinces decreased from approximately 8 percent, as a result of a reduction of bookings for the Proposition 47 crime, while cite and releases increased, the researchers found.

Offenders convicted of these crimes were about 3 percent less likely to be convicted of a new crime within two years, but the researchers said: it is not clear whether that was because they are not committing new crimes or because they are less likely to be arrested and prosecuted because of the lower penalties.

Lower penalties result in fewer addicts now seem to be on the treatment, than “stealing for their habit,” said San Luis Obispo County Chief probation officer Jim Salio, president of Chief Probation Officers of California.

Morgan Hill police chief David Swing, president of the California Police chiefs Association, said that the researchers ‘ findings “are consistent with what police chiefs across the country have seen since 2014” and is an initiative intended for the November ballot that would partially roll back the 2014 law.

It would allow prison sentences for serial thieves, lifting DNA collections of those sentenced for the crimes to which penalties were reduced, and the bar of the previous release of criminals convicted of more violent, serious and sexual offences.

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