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«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»

-- [ Page 17 ] --

It is about the process of being arrested and going to jail for several hours. It only comes into play a week later when you see him out. You pinched him for a good pinch and a week later he’s walking the streets.

We are still going to arrest. It just sucks because the work you are doing is kind of blown off for them to go to class and hang out with other tweakers and learn new ways how not to get caught… It frustrates me because if you get a guy who is a real jerk and you do all this work to get him hammered and he gets off on Prop36 and he is out again and you know he is a dirt bag and you know he is going to reoffend. You know he is going to go do some other crime whether it is a burg or id theft or whatever. It’s job security.

A few, typically older and more experienced, officers stated they do not get frustrated when an offender they arrest gets diverted through Proposition 36.

…you arrest the individual. If he is out the next day, I did my job. I don’t take it personally if he gets released. I don’t get upset. That is what I stress to the new guys. Don’t take the job personally. If you can arrest someone you can, if you can’t you can’t. If you don’t get them today, you’ll get them another day. They’ll do something again. That is why they are called repeat offenders.

You learn to let it go. Otherwise it will drive you nuts.

Interestingly, several officers claimed they had not changed their behavior, but they knew of other officers who had. Often these officers would say in the same breath, “it hasn’t changed what I do at all” or “it doesn’t affect us, it’s a court thing” and a few sentences later, in the same monologue, say “here is how we changed our tactics.” The following quotes illustrate this nicely.

No, because really on our end, business didn’t change. You still arrest them. That was more of the courts… [one sentence later]…it took us a

–  –  –

These findings based on what officers said are informative; however, what may be just as illuminating is what officers did not say. Fascinatingly, officers did not mention that offenders sentenced under Prop36 for a felony drug offense are on

–  –  –

recognized this and he was a narcotics officer explaining the difficulty he has recruiting confidential informants as a result of Prop36. This is an important point, because offenders on felony probation (80% of Prop36ers in Orange County) can be searched by law enforcement officers without probable cause at any time, as a condition of their probation. Officers are aware of the resource as it applies to felony probationers; they simply do not recognize that most offenders on Prop36 probation are on “felony probation” and have search terms. This is a major crime control tool

–  –  –

understood, this would certainly be considered a positive benefit of Prop36 by law The full quote is provided on page 114, under the heading “additional charges.” enforcement officers. As it stands, it further demonstrates that officers do not really know a lot about Proposition 36

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The most frequent complaint by narcotics officers and supervisors in the focus county was that the law reduced the number of people willing to be confidential informants (CI’s). A confidential informant is an offender arrested for a minor crime who helps officers identify and arrest more serious criminals (such as drug dealers) in exchange for a less serious charge or a lighter sentence for his/her crime.

This unit works on the sharing of information. If patrol arrests you and you’ve got a baggie of dope in your purse and I come in and say “Look, you, you’re screwed. What do you know? What can you do to help yourself out?” You tell me, “Well, I know this guy who’s got an ounce.” So then, I’m trading information with you and I’m dropping your charges down, which they’re not going to show on your graph.

But then I go after this guy for the possession for sales and then he says, “Hey, I know a guy who’s got a pound.” So, now I’m whittling away his charge to get to that pound level. We’re always trying to work up the ladder. So you could get busted with 11377 (possession of dangerous drug), give me a 78 (possession of dangerous drugs for sales) and then I’m going on. This guy says, “Hey I know Juan over here’s got a gun.” So I trade him his dope charge for a gun charge, we’re in the business of messing up your charts! That’s what we do.

Prior to Proposition 36, many drug offenders were “eager to work off their case because they were looking at jail time.” Since Proposition 36 went into effect, there are significantly fewer offenders who want to “work off their case” because offenders know that they will be sentenced to probation regardless of whether they cooperate with law enforcement. The reduction in CI’s described by these officers is particularly profound when one considers that the number of offenders arrested for minor drug violations has increased dramatically since 2001. Other things being equal, the number of CI’s should have increased as arrests for minor drug crimes increased; it should not have decreased.

CI’s (Confidential Informants) have gone down because they realized “I don’t need to work any case off. I’m going to get out the first 2 or 3 times under Prop36. I’m going to get these free passes. So I’ll wait until I use up my passes then we’ll talk.” [We’ve seen] at least a 75% reduction in number of CI’s and that is a conservative estimate.





We used to have 15-20 CI’s at any given time, now we have maybe 5.

I went from 50-60 CI’s a year down to less than 10; immediately….I’m lucky if I get 10 a year [now].

Before Prop36 we had no problems getting CI’s – they were coming to us, knocking down our doors. We had attorneys bringing clients to ushey what can we do with this?” Now we have changed our tactics as far as how we deal with them, we have to play games as far as getting informants, in comparison to what it used to be. Now we have to offer that their case not go to court.

Officers in narcotics units contend they are less efficient as a result of Proposition 36. This is because they must do more “leg work” to identify dealers and distributors, secure search warrants, and make arrests.

Has it changed the way we do business now? Yes, in the sense that we have to do a lot more surveillance cases now and those are a lot more time consuming. The nice thing about informants is, you give them money, send them into a house, they buy drugs and they are done. We could get our search warrant and go on… What takes a week or two in surveillance activity now; we could do in one day and get a search warrant. So it has definitely changed the way we do business… It is much more time consuming.

Additionally, some narcotics units have chosen to expand the scope of their narcotics investigations to include the additional crimes drug offenders are involved in (such as stolen property) in order to disqualify offenders from Proposition 36.

You go from a dope crew to a theft crew in a way because now you are trying to research to make that dope charge stick to get other charges so it doesn’t get Prop36’d out. You jump over a lot more hurdles. You do a lot more work.

[It used to be that] we got our dope, we got our felony. They are going to go to jail or prison on this felony. That is great; we’ll take this mail [that the offender had in his possession at the time of arrest] and book it so they don’t get it back [in cases they suspect theft of mail]. Now they are going to greater lengths. Now they [narcotics officers] are looking more into those other crimes to try and get more charges because they realize that dope has been cut down to its knees. There isn’t the force behind the dope charge anymore.

Before, we [the narcotics unit] would turn away from getting involved in identity theft or checks or something. Now we’ll say, hey we’re doing this too because it makes it a non-Prop36 eligible case. To make it more worth our while to suit what we are trying to do which is really closely tied with citizen complaints… Narcotics officers anticipated a drop in the number of CI’s and adapted in three ways: (1) by using alternative methods to identify drug sellers (as discussed above), (2) by working CI’s immediately, and in some departments, (3) by increasing the number of paid CI’s. When a person offers to be a CI, narcotics officers obtain as much information as they can from the person right away because if they do not, offenders often change their mind after they discover there is no incentive to work with law enforcement. Also, some departments now pay CI’s.

Working dope 15 years ago as an officer and working dope 5 years ago as a supervisor was night and day because of Prop36. Because people knew [about Prop36]….you might sign them up that day, then they go home and talk to their buddy and find out they’ll get Prop36 and they don’t want to work with you. Hey it ain’t worth it. I know Prop36 is going to get me off.

When you get that informant, you try and do as much as you can that day that they want to work. Because when they get home they won’t be back. Because they go home and figure it out. Or they talk to their buddies who say “what are you giving up your friends for when you can just go and get Prop36?” We’ve switched tactics again for just simple possession cases of meth, a little half gram, quarter gram …a good solid Prop36 case, and we know it. We found a few people that are tired of going through Prop36 because it is a hassle for them, so we’ll just kind of straight deal with them and say “Hey, I’ll take a report on this if you want to work for me, if you don’t, just let me know and I’ll file the case and you’ll get an appearance letter in the mail and do your Prop36, and they just don’t want the hassle of doing it, so they’ll just work and turn in their drug dealer, and we’ll dismiss the case.”

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In addition to the unit specific effects described above, officers and supervisors also described other impacts of the legislation. One unanticipated impact was that Prop36 significantly reduced court time for officers. Another unanticipated effect was the perceived impact on resident satisfaction.

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Officers agreed that spending less time in court is “the one benefit” of Proposition 36. Offenders are pleading guilty to their drug charges much more frequently than in the past. In some cases, the court is allowing the additional charges (intended to disqualify an offender from Proposition 36 sentencing) to be dropped and allowing an offender to plea to a qualifying drug possession offense and receive Proposition 36 probation. As a result, there are fewer preliminary hearings, fewer trials, and fewer officers testifying in court. As one officer noted, before Proposition 36, “[we] would constantly get subpoenaed for 11377 (possession) and 11550 (under the influence) charges because there was nothing else to do. The guy was going to go to prison so he might as well fight it; whereas, a lot of them are pleading guilty now” (Confidential Informant, personal communication). One narcotics officer observed, “It used to be that you went to court on almost everything (every dope arrest). Now guys will be here 5 years who haven’t been to court to testify on a dope case” (Confidential Informant, personal communication). While officers may enjoy this benefit, supervisors believe officers are missing out on valuable training.

Experience-wise for the officers, going to court is a valuable learning experience for a police officer. It helps you do your job better because you go into court and tell what happened, then you get slapped by the defense attorney for doing it the way you did it and find that you are not going to do it that way again. You are going to get smarter and you are going to do it different next time. You learn from both the DA and public defender that there is a better way to do this. So it educates the officer, so the officers aren’t getting the education they should be getting because they are not going to court anymore.

We talk about the downside of it in regards to court appearance and courtroom testimony, which is a huge thing for new officers. They’re not exposed to court testimony. Prior to prop36, we had a huge amt of preliminary hearings on 11377 [possession] and 11364 [paraphernalia] cases. You don’t see that anymore. There’s no need for prelim anymore because they just do the prop36, PC1000. By the time these officers now are going to trial maybe on a murder or assault with a deadly weapon, they don’t have that courtroom testimony practice and the grilling they got from DA’s and defense attorneys. We think it’s a negative impact. I guess it’s a good thing that people don’t have to go to court, but at the same time it’s a bad thing because they don’t get that experience.

According to several training officers and supervisors, testifying at preliminary hearings for drug cases exposes an officer to testifying and increases their confidence on the stand. It also teaches them how to anticipate questions and respond appropriately on the witness stand, skills that are particularly helpful in serious cases.

–  –  –

Narcotics officers and community policing officers stated that citizen complaints have increased as a result of Proposition 36. They assert that citizens, particularly those living in high drug crime neighborhoods, are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of police service they receive. Residents report drug activity in their neighborhood, give officers details about specific suspects and expect a resolution to the drug problem. Residents are disappointed, though, because the offender was arrested and convicted, but not incarcerated. They did not receive the outcome they desired; an end to the drug activity which was negatively affecting their quality of life. This suggests that the public is also frustrated and putting pressure on law enforcement.

There is a new found level of dissatisfaction with police service. We hadn’t done our job properly because that guy was out of jail right away. Police are not as effective at doing their job and taking care of a problem.



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