Sometimes the unintended consequences of even the most well-meaning endeavors can be devastating.
Consider Proposition 47. When voters approved it in November, we’re sure their sincere goal was to help nonviolent offenders by diverting them from crowded prisons into drug treatment, mental health care and educational programs. What they probably didn’t want was to make it more difficult for police to catch repeat offenders.
Yet, that’s the unintended consequence of the law. Because nonviolent felonies have been reclassified to misdemeanors, criminals can now evade DNA-collection requirements. Only those arrested on suspicion of felonies can have their DNA collected. The thousands who commit lesser crimes can refuse.
Since many miscreants work their way up the criminal ladder, starting with nonviolent crimes before hitting the big time, this presents an enormously serious issue.
More than 250,000 DNA samples collected since November can no longer be analyzed. Several hundred thousand more that were collected in felony arrests before Proposition 47’s passage might be expunged because those crimes are now misdemeanors. This will hamstring thousands of investigations.
So the so-called Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act – promoted by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon with the support of churches, civil libertarians and even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – is actually making our schools and neighborhoods less safe.
That doesn’t surprise a very specific group of people. Virtually every law enforcement official in the Northern San Joaquin Valley opposed this initiative. They were adamant that the consequences – those that were obvious and those they knew would emerge – would be devastating. The Bee agreed and urged a “no” vote. Turns out they were right.
Now the perpetrators of some “petty” crimes – possession of date-rape drugs, stealing firearms worth less than $950, for example – are no longer in the database. We can think of only one reason to have a hot Smith & Wesson in your pocket. As Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson said at the time: “People don’t steal guns to collect them. They’re planning to commit another crime.”
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has sent a letter to Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, a former captain for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, asking him to introduce legislation to amend the state’s DNA Databank Act.
She wants to include specific misdemeanors on the DNA collection list, including assault and battery, burglary, grand theft, identity theft, drug offenses, spousal abuse, animal cruelty and a host of others.
We are certain Cooper’s bill will draw the support of Kristin Olsen and Adam Gray in the Assembly and Anthony Cannella, Cathleen Galgiani and Tom Berryhill in the senate.
Still, it’s hard to say how this bill will fare in committee, where such bills often die. Fortunately, Cooper can point to 38 other states that require DNA samples after arrest for certain misdemeanor.
We would have preferred that Proposition 47 had been defeated. Now it’s up to lawmakers to fix this very specific flaw.