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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Enterprise Runs Sheriff Prieto Letter on Prop 6

Just over two weeks ago, we had a story on California's Proposition 6. Part of that story had to do with the fact that a letter to the editor appeared in the Woodland Daily Democrat from Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto.

It turned out that that same letter appeared in numerous newspapers across the state, each having the respective County Sheriff as the author.

Sheriff Prieto writes:
"Whether California faces rosy or gloomy times, we must always make public safety the number one priority. If our streets, parks and schools aren't safe from gang violence and other crimes, then nothing else really matters."
He goes on to argue:
"Democratic members of the Budget Conference Committee have approved deep cuts to public safety programs including the Citizens Option for Public Safety, which provides for front-line law enforcement, and the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act while altogether eliminating several vital programs such as California's Methamphetamine Interdiction Program and the Small and Rural County Sheriffs Grant Program. Combined with a proposed corrections package that puts some offenders back out on the streets without supervision, these cuts will significantly exacerbate the ability of law enforcement to provide essential public safety services. These programs are critical in preventing our most at-risk youths from joining gangs, getting involved in drugs, and entering a lifetime of crime."
What else does this law do according to Sheriff Prieto:
"In addition to protecting important gang prevention and intervention funding, this initiative prohibits bail to illegal aliens who are charged with violent or gang crimes; it creates tougher punishment for gang crimes, drive-by shootings, methamphetamine distribution and victim intimidation; it helps victims who have been intimidated by gang criminals and it funds victim-witness protection programs in our communities."
Finally he gives you the link to a place where you can get more information: .

I point this out once again because there in yesterday's Davis Enterprise was the same letter bearing the signature of Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto.

Now when Woodland Daily Democrat editor Jim Smith found out about this little scheme, he was not that happy.

The Woodland Journal Blog was the first to point this out.

We followed up with an article that detailed the proposition itself along with the Sheriff's comments on August 14, 2008.

On August 15, Jim Smith put a blurb in his editorial.
Last week, The Democrat published a letter to the editor allegedly written by Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, titled "Our communities suffer the most from public safety cuts."

I write "allegedly" today, because an alert reader noted at the local Woodland Journal blog site that the letter was the same as others sent to newspapers across the state, some of which also published the letter atop the names of county sheriffs.

Some of those sheriffs named were Tom Bosenko of Shasta County, and Dean Wilson of Del Norte County.

First, my congratulations to an alert reader. I urge anyone who spots these letters - which are called "Astroturf" - to let us know.

It turns out the letter was submitted en masse by the "Yes on Prop. 6" Committee to sheriffs throughout the state.

Yolo Sheriff Ed Prieto is listed as a backer of the "Yes on Prop. 6" measure.

I understand very well why some otherwise well-educated people submit letters that have in fact been written by someone else. Sometimes, people have trouble putting their thoughts together to form a cogent explanation about why they feel the way they do on a particular issue. Sometimes, the letter provided is just so much better written. Sometimes, there's too much going on at the time to permit a person time to sit down and put his own thoughts on paper.

In any respect, now that we know Sheriff Prieto is a backer of Prop. 6 and will put his name on something he didn't write, we will be on our guard against future letters from him. It's not that we don't trust our sheriff to submit original commentary, we just don't know when his submissions will be original commentary.
Given the reaction of Jim Smith, it will be interesting to see how Davis Enterprise Editor Debbie Davis reacts.

Law enforcement groups have support proposition 6, but there is a long and growing list of opponents as well.

Some of the opposition to Proposition 6 includes the California Democratic Party, the California Professional Firefighters, the California Labor Federation, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, the California Teachers Association, California National Organization for Women, the Los Angeles City Council, the League of Women Voters, California Church IMPACT and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. [Click here for a full list of opposition]

The ACLU has come out against the proposition as well. They say:
"This dangerous initiative would deepen the budget crisis by diverting billions of dollars annually from schools, hospitals, and violence prevention programs into the criminal justice system. It is a misguided effort to incarcerate more and more people, including youth."
Meanwhile in a stroke of deep irony, one of the major sponsors and backers of Proposition 6, Henry Nicholas III was indicted on 21 charges in June.

This is from an ACLU release:
"Billionaire Henry Nicholas III, who donated millions to get two crime-related initiatives on the November ballot, was arraigned on June 16, 2008, on an 18-page, 21-count indictment that includes charges of supplying prostitutes to big-ticket customers, drug use and trafficking, conspiracy, security fraud and making death threats. Nicholas donated a combined total of $5.9 million of critical seed money to Senator George Runner (R-Antelope Valley) and Assemblymember Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) for their "tough-on-crime" initiatives.

The media storm has forced both campaigns to distance themselves from Nicholas, who has resigned his active role in both campaigns. While Assemblyman Spitzer has committed not to spend any of the remaining $2 million their campaign has raised from Nicholas, it was the crucial seed money donated by Nicholas that helped to put both initiatives on the ballot."
That is what you might call irony, I hope he gets as tough on himself as he wanted to on other criminals.

Stephen Walker, a CEO of a group called Minorities in Law Enforcement wrote this:
"We understand Senator Runner's goal of trying to address the gang issue. Unfortunately, this measure takes a reactionary approach and does not effectively address the root concerns of the problem. The nature of which the bill was written fails to illustrate how it would actually make our neighborhoods safer. However, it does illustrate how to further overwhelm a prison system that is largely occupied with African American and Latino males by imposing sentence enhancements and targeting these particular demographics. This is especially inconsistent when our state's Governor has recently proposed a 22,000 prisoner early release to ease the states massive overcrowding challenges."
According to the California Federation of Teachers:
"The Runner Initiative directs billions of tax dollars to prisons, probation, and police (one billion dollars in the first year, and half a billion per year thereafter; plus additional unfunded mandates that local and county governments will be forced to pay)..."
Congresswoman Barbara Lee:
"The Runner Initiative's name on the November ballot is as misleading as what it proposes to do for our community. The so-called "Safe Neighborhood Act" will not lead to safer streets, less crime or a reduction in drug dealing in our community. While we all want our communities to be free of crime and safer for our families, the Runner Initiative doesn't address the core problems or create real solutions. In light of the current California budget crisis, we cannot afford to irresponsibly spend even more California tax-dollars on a failed policy of only funding prisons and criminalizing youth; we must make investments that prevent crime, in our communities where the impact is the greatest. We should be set our sights on finding creative ways to stabilize the economy, provide our children with educational centers of excellence and insist on equal access to the jobs marketplace."
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums:
"Everyone wants safe communities. Bringing peace to urban America is perhaps the most difficult and profound challenge facing the country today. However, in this time of crisis, the Runner Initiative is the worst kind of public policy. It plays on our deepest emotions but sets us up for failure. The Runner Initiative is an unfunded mandate that will gut California's budget. It won't result in safety and security. Instead it will leave us in more debt with less safety and stability than ever before."
As I wrote on August 14, 2008, this law seems to have much in the way of unintended consequences that will end up costing the state far more than the initial money upfront.

It seems like this imposes a lot of new rules on the criminal justice system that need to be clearly thought out in terms of their consequences. Voters will often vote for these measures because they want to be tough on crime. This one has a chance to fail because of the economic issues, but frankly some of the provisions could have startlingly unintended consequences.

It seems that the Sheriff's want the additional resources and I cannot blame them for that. But if it comes at the expense of beleaguered schools, it seems to me that we will just be feeding into the problem of law enforcement in the future by taking money from present education.

So for that reason alone, I am voting against it. And I am alarmed at a number of the provisions in the law. I am saddened to see the Sheriff, one of the very few Democratic Sheriffs in California joining his Republican colleagues and supporting such a measure just to get additional funding.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting