Why does California make it so hard for us to keep you safe?

Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Taylor shown on patrol. Many of California’s laws and rules make keeping criminals off the streets difficult.
Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Taylor shown on patrol. Many of California’s laws and rules make keeping criminals off the streets difficult. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Public safety is the No. 1 priority of Merced County and, hopefully, Merced County voters. Rightfully so.

Without adequate public safety, you won’t attract economic development opportunities, you won’t be able to retain brilliant minds coming out of our local college campuses, and you won’t be able to grow the local community.

With adequate public safety, all these things and more are possible.

Law and order is the cornerstone for any community that hopes to have a promising future. But the tools that law enforcement rely on to protect its residents are slowly being eroded.

Assembly Bill 109 (jail realignment), Proposition 47 (reduced penalties for certain crimes), and Proposition 57 (parole for non-violent criminals) requires all California counties to remove inmates from our local jail system and release them back into society. In some cases, criminals don’t spend any time in jail at all. Too often, these are repeat offenders who are released to prey on the same people, neighborhoods and businesses over and over again.

Merced County believes in reformative justice to reduce recidivism. We have several programs in place, such as the Trident Center, to turn law-breakers around and provide them with the proper tools and resources to transition into productive members of society.

We’re continuing to expand these programs, particularly with the current renovation of the John Latorraca Correctional Center on Sandy Mush Road. Planned improvements include a new 10,000-square-foot programming/classroom building as well as mental health treatment facilities that will better address inmate needs and help reduce the number of re-offenses upon release.

We want Merced County residents to be afforded the opportunities to find success, and for offenders to reform.

However, the reality is that not all offenders are ready to change their ways. Simply put, some criminals need to serve their stint in jail for the crimes they have committed.

We’ve been hearing concerns from the community about releasing too many offenders too early – we understand those concerns and we agree.

Please understand that in most cases, the state has left us no choice about when and how to release certain individuals. Many of those decisions are made in Sacramento or have become mandatory through ballot-box initiatives.

We’re working with what we have. Through many various avenues, we’ve found ways to be creative and keep crime down.

We have a great law enforcement team at the county made up of the Sheriff’s Office, Probation and the District Attorney’s Office – all of whom are working hard to reform criminals whenever possible.

You can bet that we are doing everything within our power to maintain law and order in Merced County. Our goal is to make our community safe and prosperous.

Vern Warnke is sheriff of Merced County; Lee Lor represents District 2 and Daron McDaniel represents District 3 on the Merced County Board of Supervisors.