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Rising crime and what can be done about it, Northstate officials react

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Chico’s Columbus Ave. was home to multiple shootings in 2022 and locals say violent crime is a part of everyday life. The sentiments read true given data showing rising crime in the Northstate, in California and across the nation.

Butte County law-enforcement, and policymakers, have an idea about what can be done.

“We’re not saying, ‘just lock everybody up.' But, there has to be accountability for crime,” said California Republican Assembly Leader James Gallagher. Gallagher represents much of the Northstate, from Yuba City to Tehama County. For him, making California safe means returning to some 'tough-on-crime' policies.

“We need to re-introduce tougher penalties for these crimes,” Gallagher said. “And then, also, have a better plan for rehabilitation. Make sure people do the time, but when they come out that they are actually on a better path and not re-commit.”

He emphasized changing parts of Prop. 47. The 2014 proposition reduced penalties for certain lower-level drug and property offenses. This sentiment was echoed by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

“When you pass legislation that removes from the criminal justice system ways to hold people accountable, I think, we are starting to see the effects of that. And, I'm speaking, specifically, about Proposition 47," Honea said.

The measure also prioritized prison and jail space for higher-level offenders, meaning more suspects booked into jail are eligible for cite and release, or other forms of pre-trial release, because of their misdemeanor status.

Prop. 47 was passed by voters in 2014 aiming to reduce overcrowded jails. Gun-related aggravated assaults, in California, jumped 64% from 2019 to 2021.

Sheriff Honea says, locally, these laws, combined with the opioid crisis and low staffing, explain recent crime surges. But will “tough on crime” measures actually make the state safer?

Chico State University Professor Michael Coyle says “no." He believes in restorative justice, a more holistic approach to addressing crime at its root, rather than harsh punishment. Coyle has been with the University since 2007, and attested to the methods.

"About 15 years ago, I got a call from the Paradise School District who had heard about restorative justice,” Coyle said. “You probably won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve completely changed the situation around all these kids they were sending away to [Juvenile Hall]. All these parents who were getting into trouble with the law, instead of continuing that process, we stopped that process, and we started to provide resources for the families themselves to succeed."

After a 2017 restorative justice project by Chico State, recidivism for probationary youth in Tehama County was five times lower than the state average. “Close to 50% of the budget of [Chico] goes to law enforcement and fire." Coyle continued, "Did you know that the criminalizing system in this country is the third-most-expensive government program in the history of the planet? There is not enough money for these people. There is not enough money for these institutions, and they are absolute colossal failures!”

Coyle emphasized that while recent trends are up, overall crime is drastically lower than it was at its height in the 1980s and 90s.

“There is a direct correlation between suppression of violent crime and homicides when you have a sufficient number of police officers or deputy sheriffs working on the streets,” Honea said, citing a study by the California Public Policy Institute.

Gallagher and Honea do attest to the importance of rehabilitation but emphasize accountability. "Having the pendulum swing completely the other way, without the ability to hold those offenders who pose the greatest risk to our community accountable,” Honea finished, we find ourselves moving into the trends that we are seeing right now."


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