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By Shiloh Ireland

October 14, 2023 (Lakeside) - Conservative activist Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California, held a townhall last month at the Lakeside VFW focused on rising crime and homelessness in California and East County.

DeMaio’s organization is working to repeal Propositions 47, passed in 2014 and Prop 57, passed in 2016.  “Propositions 47 and 57 became a catch and release. as it downgraded may felonies to misdemeanors,” said DeMaio, noting that if a person steals items up to $949, it is a misdemeanor under current law.

According to DeMaio, “Over 70,000 prisoners have been released after outcries of overcrowding by various groups and some politicians.”

He further stated that in California, there has been a 30% spike in violent crimes and a 14% increase in property crimes. “ East County is less safe than 80% of the country,” reported DeMaio.

Fact check:  DeMaio is partially correct, according to data compiled in a 2022 “Crime in California” report compiled by the  state Attorney General’s office and the California Dept. of Justice.  According to the report,  the violent crime rate overall did rise 6.1% statewide last year, though the homicide rate dropped 5%.  From 2017 to 2022,  the prior five years, however, there were substantial spikes in aggravated assaults statewide (up 24%) and homicides (up 23.9%, though robberies dropped 14.6% statewide, though short of the 30% DeMaio claimed.

Locally, crime fell by about 3 percent overall in San Diego County from 2021 to 2022, but the violent crime rate — fueled by a jump in robberies — hit a 10-year high, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in May 2023, citing a SANDAG report.  A 10 percent increase in robberies fueled most of the rise in violent crime, the report showed. Cindy Burke, the senior director of data science at SANDAG, speculated that the rise in robberies could have been fueled the economic hardships from the pandemic. But the head of the Calif. Retailers Assoc., Rachel Michelin, has told Fox News that post-Prop 47, some thieves have been going into stores with calculators to assure they don’t steal more than $949 to avoid felony charges.

Reform California’s website states that  East San Diego County now has an annual violent crime rate of 5.01 per 1000 for murder, rape, assault or armed robbery. One in 52 residents will be the victim of a property crime each year. This puts our region in the bottom fifth of communities for safety nationwide, the site states.

DeMaio sees drug use and mental health issues as the primary drivers behind homelessness  “Homelessness is not a job issue and our unemployment is low, with already $25 billion spent by California, and it is not  a lack of housing,” he says.  “80% of those that are homeless are drug addicted or have significant mental health issues…It is not from the lack of the power of love, but the lack of change from those experiencing homelessness.”

Once a problem for just downtown areas, East San Diego County has seen homelessness spike in the past 10 years, with camps popping up in canyons and street corners across our area. Reform  California’s website states, “Law enforcement has been prohibited from enforcing laws against homeless and some politicians are trying to force government-subsidized homeless shelters in each neighborhood.”

What are the solutions to the rising crime rate and of homelessness? DeMaio believes the voters hold the key in electing politicians who will enact strong anti-crime legislation and remove district attorneys who are soft on crime.

With homelessness, he supports more mental health interventions and addressing the roots of the issues. DeMaio, a Republican, largely faults Democrats for spikes in both crimes and homelessness. Of note, however, the new Care Court system signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, aims to allow involuntary commitment for up to a year of severely mentally ill individuals on the streets, potentially included drug addicts whose mental faculties are affected by drugs such as methamphetamines, though it remains to be seen how much impact the Care Court will have.

Proposition 47 (Prop 47) was a ballot measure passed by California voters on November 5, 2014. The law made some non-violent property crimes, where the value does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors. It also made some simple drug possession offenses into misdemeanors.

Proposition 57, passed by California voters in 2016, allows felons that commit supposedly non-violent, crimes to earn early parole, but a loophole benefits some who have committed violent crimes too.

DeMaio, a registered Republican, hosts a radio show on NewsRadio 600 KOGO.  He was a San Diego City Council Member from 2008 -2012  representing District 5, ran for Mayor of San Diego and narrowly lost to Bob Filner in 2012, and ran against Congressman Scott Peters in 52nd. District in 2014, but lost.

Per its website, Reform California’s mission statement is ”to fight wasteful spending in state and local government and ensure that savings are put back into services that Californians need. Reform California accomplishes its mission by sponsoring research projects, analyzing state and local budget decisions, and crafting a variety of reform proposals.”

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