Home News California’s ‘catch and release’ law has police fuming, property crimes up 20%

California’s ‘catch and release’ law has police fuming, property crimes up 20%

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Car with broken window that resulted in property theft Image credit: Myke Waddy.
Car with broken window that resulted in property theft Image credit: Myke Waddy.


Police officers throughout California are grumbling – as they continue to see an uptick in localized crimes- but really can’t do much about it. At least they can’t go about it the old way– with arrests.

That’s because of Proposition 47, a referendum passed by voters in California in 2014, which re-categorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies.

Since then, cops have noticed a 20% increase in property crimes. NPR reports, “Auto thefts up 21 percent; larceny from vehicles up 30 percent; garage burglaries up 33 percent.”

“A lot of that we attribute to those lower-level drug offenders who are now out and trying to support their habit,” said Robert Handy, Huntington Beach police chief.

More addicts are out in the street now because without the threat of a prison sentence it’s tougher to get them into treatment programs. Cops say they’re frustrated because when they do make an arrest, the offenders are released the same day.

Experts say it’s too early to know what the overall impact of Prop 47 will be. Defenders of the measure say police are “cherry-picking the data.” Supporters of reform, however, say it’s worth keeping an eye on localized crime spikes.

In the meantime, law enforcement officers just have to adapt to the new reality. Chief Handy says that’s what he’s trying to do.

“For us as police officers, the old way of handling that was just putting them in jail. But we can’t do that anymore, so we’re looking for alternative ways to get them off the street, get them the treatment they need,” he says. His dept. now has a full-time officer dedicated to working with the city’s growing homeless population.

Handy also points out that American police officers have spent the last two decades cracking down on these so-called “quality of life crimes” because that’s what the public wanted. So, it will be interesting to see what will happen, down the road, when more people start to realize the effects of incarceration reform.

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