Vargas: With Prop. 47, the State of California has taken enabling to a whole new level


There seems to be a lot of controversy about the wisdom of Prop. 47 and its impact on crime rates. If you may recall, a whopping 60 percent of voters passed the initiative then called the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” a play on words if there ever was one. Makes you wonder how many people even read the actual proposition.

The proposition created a system that relegated a lot of crimes to misdemeanors. These included things like theft under $950, most drug possessions and theft of handguns. So what people used to go to prison for was reduced to the level of a citation.

Prop. 47 was a response to prison overcrowding and the fact police officers were actually doing a very good job of arresting people.

Prop 47. proponents told us only low-level offenders would be impacted — people incarcerated for simple things like drugs and theft.

Every low-level offender is just one bad decision away from becoming a violent criminal. At any given time they can graduate from petty crook to violent offender.

I fully understand the problems from a policy standpoint of continuing to pay the huge cost of incarcerating criminals. But giving people a get-out-of-jail card really wasn’t the answer.

This is especially true when it comes to such a serious issue as drug addiction. Anyone who has had a friend or family member struggling with drug addiction knows how hard it is to quit. They have experienced the turmoil it creates in the lives of everyone who loves and cares for them.

Did you ever stop to think how many crimes the average petty criminal commits before they get caught? That’s your car they broke into, your parcel they stole off your front porch, your house they burglarized.

Prop 47. partly was sold to the public on the premise it would provide additional funding for drug rehabilitation. Without the motivation of a prison sentence, it really has been hard to get people to sign up on their own.

Across the state, the number of defendants participating in drug courts has dropped. In some counties, the number of participants has decreased by more than 50 percent.

I have seen the amazing changes that can take place when drug rehabilitation works. People’s lives and the lives of their relatives are changed for the better.

That being said, my experience both professionally and personally has been that substance abusers don’t immediately see the error of their ways, enter a program and immediately become model citizens and contributors to society.

It’s a long hard road they take. In just about every case, it seems people have to hit rock bottom before they reach out for help. Rock bottom is often a jail cell.

I know first hand the struggles of drug addiction. As a police officer, one piece of advice I have given for more than three decades is simple:

“Don’t become an enabler.”

Don’t make it easy for those you love to continue in a self-destructive lifestyle — a lifestyle whose impact is often far reaching.

With Prop. 47, the State of California has taken enabling to a whole new level.

Across the board, just about every law enforcement leader in California is reporting rising levels of property crime. Law enforcement leaders are concerned about the long-term effects of Prop. 47.

You would think people might listen. Academics say it’s way too early to tell; they say they need more data and time.

During the time it takes to analyze, study and argue the rise in crime rates it means more and more people are going to be victimized.

As politicians continue to debate the consequences of Prop. 47, our communities are becoming less safe by the minute. Let’s just hope you aren’t the next victim.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at