California Loves Victims… But Not in the Way that you Would Hope

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Over the past few years, California has made no secret about its intention to become the #1 state in the country when it comes to victims. Now, if you are a victim advocate or even a survivor, you might say to yourself, well what is wrong with that? Don’t we want California to put victims first? Actually, yes, we do. But California is definitely not trying to put victims first. That is not how Gavin Newsom and our elected officials think. In my opinion, they are trying to give California the distinction of having the greatest number of victims in the country. They want to make sure that California leads the way in making it as simple as possible for “criminals” or “justice involved individuals” to create as many crime victims as possible. Just look at the crazy policies.

First you had AB109. Instead of building more prisons to handle the results of our crime problem, our leadership decided a better solution was to empty them. They decided to move dangerous convicted criminals into local jails and let out those spending time in local jails, whether pretrial or convicted, out into our communities to free up space. What did we see? A spike in crime and more victims.

Then came the propositions, 47 and 57. These two intentionally twisted and confusing propositions decriminalized a long list of felonies for both pretrial defendants and convicted criminals down to misdemeanors. What does this mean? Now, instead of receiving a real punishment for drug related offenses and certain violent crimes, criminals were now going to get a free pass and a second chance from our elected officials. Just think, you can rape an unconscious person, get arrested and quickly released the same day so you can be home to watch Jeopardy. That sounds like a good thing for victims, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, with this soft on crime mentality, the second chance, becomes a third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh chance. All the while, the victim gets no chance. And of course, what did we see? A rise in crime and more victims.

Even after all this kindness and forgiveness placed on those breaking our laws over and over again, the jails were still filled. This was very troubling to our elected officials because they want our jails to be empty. So, they passed Senate Bill 10. This legislation calls for the use of risk assessments to replace the use of financially secured release in the criminal justice system. Now, risk assessments are a sketchy topic in criminal justice today. A recent study by 27 of the top researchers in predictive algorithms found that these risk tools are not only racially biased, but their effectiveness is as accurate as using a “magic 8-ball.” In fact, if you look around the country, every place you see these risk assessments being used, you see ineffective criminal justice systems. In Harris County Texas, they now use risk assessments to release all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies without bail…simply on their promise to appear. And guess how many of those defendants show up for court? According to court records, only 37% of defendants are showing up for court…that means 63% of the time a victim never gets a chance at justice. Based on this evidence and other stories of failures across the country, what do you think the impact of SB10 will be on California. More crime, less accountability, and yes…more victims.

I can go on forever telling you stories of ineffective and dangerous legislation, but I will spare you the shock and looming depression. That being said, I will still mention one more policy, which in my opinion could be the proverbial nail in the coffin for California and public safety. Yesterday, Governor Newsom, signed a piece of legislation that would completely change the way that law enforcement officers are capable of protecting us. This new law changes the use of force standard for law enforcement officers from “reasonable” to “necessary in defense of human life.” Now on the surface, you might say that this is no big deal, but it actually is a big deal. What the Governor has done is put doubt and hesitation into every law enforcement officer out on the street. Instead of focusing their efforts on protecting the public, every law enforcement officer will now have to think about whether their use of force is going to be scrutinized or not. And let’s not kid ourselves, every use of force will be over-scrutinized from the lens of the criminal and not the victim. And what will be the result. Law enforcement will be less effective in keeping us safe. They should never have to second-guess their choice or decision. Now please don’t get me wrong. I am the biggest supporter and have the utmost respect for those that choose to serve and protect the public. But I don’t like the idea of politicians telling the professionals who are out on the streets day in and day out how they can do their job more fairly as opposed to more effectively. Law enforcement officers are human beings too. If you take away their ability to act quickly, swiftly and with conviction, you are taking away their effectiveness and putting them in danger. If you put an officer in danger with no means to protect themselves and the community, what happens? They stop putting themselves in harms way for fear of retribution. Crime rises and we get more victims.

So why does California love its victims so much that it is doing everything it can to create more and more of them? To be honest I really don’t know. As someone who fights every day for real victims, real survivors it is disheartening to see such lack of support and misguided direction from our elected leaders. It is almost as if there is some kind of unspoken contest amongst them as to who can be the most lenient to criminals.

Anyway, enough lecturing and enough complaining. It isn’t my style. Time for solutions. California can disarm its law enforcement, but they can’t disarm me. They can be soft on crime and coddle the criminals, but that will never stop me from helping the real victims of crime that the system wants to ignore. They can continue to eliminate financial assistance to victim advocacy groups and instead funnel money into defendant services, but that will never stop me from fighting for every dollar there is that can go to helping victims. And while I can and will always continue to do these things, I can’t do them alone. Change happens when people work together to make a difference. We all need to spread the word about what is happening in our great state. The general public is completely unaware of the danger that we are all being put in, when politicians play with public safety. Educate, inform, and empower everyone you know to stand up and say STOP to this craziness. California is and will always be a leader. We just need to make sure that our leadership is in the right areas. We shouldn’t be the state with the most victims, but rather the state that helps victims the most. It’s up to all of us to make sure this is the case. It is up to us to show support for law enforcement and stand united for public safety!

Patricia Wenskunas
Founder, CEO Crime Survivors