Investigating the Root Causes of California’s Crime Spike: Siyamak Khorrami
“If it’s below $950, it’s a misdemeanor. … There is no accountability. You can go and steal whatever you want and walk out of the store and do it again the next day.”
What’s causing the sharp rise in crime in California? And why are official statistics grossly inaccurate?
You can watch Siyamak Khorrami’s new documentary California’s Crime Wave here at this link.
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Below is a rush transcript of this American Thought Leaders episode from Jun 21, 2022. This transcript may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Jan Jekielek: Siyamak Khorrami, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Siyamak Khorrami: Thank you, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s great to be here in the California Insider studio, and I’ve been really loving your new documentary, California Crime Wave. That was actually kind of shocking to me at many levels. I have heard that there’s a increase in crime in California. I know that. But, there’s one thing that really stuck out to me, and this was one of the folks being interviewed, basically asserts that based on a number of pieces of legislation, it’s almost become legal to steal in California. So tell me about this.
Mr. Khorrami: There’s a lot of different laws that have been passing over the last decade that has made it very easy for criminals to commit crimes and not face any consequences. Now, theft is not legal. There’s a threshold of, if it’s below $950, it’s a misdemeanor. And what happens is that if you steal something that’s below $950, sometimes you see people walking into a store with a calculator, calculating and adding up how much they’re stealing. If it’s below $950, then if you get caught, you’ll get a citation and you have to go to court, but they won’t take you to jail because the jails are full. So you’ll be out and you can go and commit the crime again. There’s even cases in that somebody gets caught three times in a day. There is no consequences for repeat offending. You can keep going and keep going.
Mr. Jekielek: I mean, it’s fascinating because these laws ostensibly were enacted for good reasons, because it started with there being too many people in prison for too long for crimes that perhaps didn’t warrant as serious responses. That’s kind of what comes through in here.
Mr. Khorrami: Yes. Yes. So we had this three strikes law, where if you committed the crime, if you committed three crimes and then you could go to jail for life. And there was a case where somebody had stole a donut and then they ended up going to jail. Then that was the consequence. So the public didn’t want to do that anymore.
So Californians wanted to become more relaxed. And there was a shift in Californians wanting to focus more on rehabilitation. Because, there’s a big cost, when people go to prison, it costs almost $110,000 when somebody goes to jail per year for inmate. So, that’s more than going to an Ivy league school. So Californians wanted to change that, but it seems like all of these laws that were passed together, they’re making it very easy for criminals to commit crime. And almost there is no consequences for them.
Mr. Jekielek: So what is the reality of crime in California now?
Mr. Khorrami: If you look at the statistics, the statistics are saying crime is okay, where crime is not up. It’s like almost down in certain areas for most part and everything is fine. But if you really dig into the statistic and analyze it, so the statistics are saying we had eight shopliftings per day in San Francisco. And one security guard of one store told us that he saw 20 shopliftings in this just one store in one day. And there’s 10,000 stores in San Francisco.
If there was only eight cases per day in all of San Francisco, 14 Walgreens wouldn’t shut down. It tells you that the statistics is not connected to the reality. So like eight cases of shoplifting, as we dug more into it, we were told that this is probably the violent ones. That’s what is getting reported. If they’re not extreme, they may not get reported because there’s no consequences. You’re not going to get the stuff you lost back. Why bother?
Mr. Jekielek: Another thing that was really interesting in there is that there is one statistic that you can’t fake.
Mr. Khorrami: It’s the murders, the murder rate. What we realize is the murder rates are significantly higher. They’re almost double in two years. You can’t hide the body when there’s a body, and in almost a hundred percent of cases, people have to call the police and report a murder. That’s why these number can be trusted. Based on our conversations with the experts, usually if the murder rates are up, all the other types of crimes are up as well. So essentially crime is skyrocketed, but the statistics and the data is not showing this rise.
Mr. Jekielek: Now is this wishful thinking, is this under reporting or is this intentional?
Mr. Khorrami: So there is a multiple of these factors. First of all, different departments have different data. Some district attorneys, they have their data to show that crime is down because they want to show that their approach is correct. So different departments have different data, and sometimes they don’t share the data with each other, but there’s a factor of that.
There’s also a factor of people not reporting the crime because they don’t want to call the police if somebody broke into their car because what’s going to happen? There’s no consequences. They’re not going to get their stuff back. Is a waste of time. There’s another element of it is you might be afraid of the consequences. So you may not want to report it. If you report it, you may face consequences by the criminal. If you know the criminal and if they know you, you may not want to call the police for it. So there is mixture of reasons why the data is not right.
Mr. Jekielek: What about zero bail? What is that?
Mr. Khorrami: So they want to actually have you pay no bail. So, they say bail is racist. And essentially, if you don’t have the money, when you commit a crime you have to put bail to get out, and then go back to the justice system, right? You have to go back to the court. But, if you don’t have the money to put the bail, then you are discriminated against because you don’t have the money to put the bail. And so if you’re poor and you don’t have money, then you’re not able to put bail and you will go to jail, versus somebody that has the money that can put the bail.
But they don’t really question the fact that it was your choice to commit the crime. If you commit the crime, then you have to pay up for the consequences. So, they’ve come up with this idea that we should eliminate bail. And what it can do is there will be no consequences. You commit a crime, you have to show up for court, but if there’s no bail, you can go back to committing other crimes.
Mr. Jekielek: California is one place where defunding the police was a slogan that was heard a lot. So how much did that actually happen? And what was the impact?
Mr. Khorrami: I think in some of the cities, LA and San Francisco, the defunding did happen. And as a result of it, what it did is a lot of politicians in LA, the mayor came out and said the police are murderers. So, he made a comment like that and he tried to backtrack it, and they defunded the police. And in San Francisco, they did defund the police and took some of that funding and they wanted to spend it in other ways in the community.
What happened based on our study, based on our research, what we saw on the ground is that a lot of the police became demoralized because defunding the police is not just about the funding. It’s about, oh, do we want to invest in the police or not do? And a lot of the police are short staffed now because people from the police force, because policing is a very difficult job to do, the type of calls that you have to go on. Every day you wake up, you deal with the craziest things in the society, you have to deal with, you get called.
And so a number of officers in San Francisco quit. A lot of people retired early. In LA, the same thing happened. As a result of that movement, the dignity of police officers and their role they play and the pride in their job got questioned. And so all of these departments, it’s very hard for them to recruit police officers now, and they’re all short staffed. So, that’s what that movement caused. And now a lot of these counties and cities figured out they have to refund the police because that was not a very good idea. But, it is too late for them in terms of the recruiting side of things, still they’re very short staffed.
Mr. Jekielek: Siyamak, how is it that you got interested in all this?
Mr. Khorrami: Yeah. So one of the reasons I made this documentary was because I have lived in Mexico City, and in Mexico City, when you don’t have safety, it doesn’t matter you have the nicest people. In Mexico City, they have the nicest people, but it’s not safe. Every decision you make when you don’t have safety is around your safety. Where you go, what car you drive, do you walk, do you drive, what activities you do, where your kids play, which schools you send them. You have to always watch out. Are you going to get kidnapped today? Is somebody going to walk up to you with a gun, take your car, take your watch? So these are the things that you have to worry about. And what’s happening there, and what’s happening in California. We are headed, what I see from my perspective of living in Mexico City, we are headed in that direction, where we don’t feel safe anymore. We can’t drive the cars we want. We can’t go places we want. And we have to always worry.
And here, based on what’s happened with the criminal justice system, the reforms that have been done, we are not dealing with the criminal element. In Mexico City is the same model where the people are very nice in Mexico city, but there’s a criminal element that’s not facing any consequences, because there’s corruption in the government. And unfortunately California’s headed in the same direction. And we wanted to show Californians what’s going on.
And there’s another element to all of this; most Californians don’t analyze what policies they’re voting for, and if these policies are working. So because the media is not actually showing them. A lot of people know crime is up, but they don’t really connect it to the policies that we have. But they know that, oh, it’s dangerous now. I can’t leave anything in my car. Or in LA, when you go out to a restaurant, you have to be very careful where you go, where you come out, what type of car you drive, if somebody’s following you home. You have to be careful.
Mr. Jekielek: When we were speaking offline earlier, you said something very interesting to me, which is that when you have a lot of laws that actually kind of can create a more general lack of accountability in society, not around like necessarily specifically criminal behavior, but all sorts of behavior.
Mr. Khorrami: Yeah. So in California we have a lot of laws. Every year, just this state has last year, we had over 700 new laws. And bear in mind that there’s counties and there’s cities. And in LA County, we had a law that if you hand out plastic fork and knife to your customers without them asking, you can get punished and you’ll get a big fine if you do it a couple of times. And what happens is that, how are you going to control that as a restaurant order?
How are you going to make sure your employees wont handout the plastic knife to somebody? We are having a lot of these kind of laws that is very easy to break. And what happens is that we could fall into the culture of not following the laws, because it would be very hard for people to follow all these laws. One of the things that contrast here in the US versus the countries I’ve lived in is that people really respect the laws. People follow the laws. In third world-
Mr. Jekielek: Relatively, relatively, relatively.
Mr. Khorrami: Right, right. The law abiding people. And in third world countries or countries that have lived in essentially the laws are there, but nobody follows them because you have friends in the government that they can cover for you. And in some cases, when I lived in China, what happens is that there’s government officials, that’s their business to actually help you break through these mess that is in the legal system. So essentially you have to always have a relationship with them.
There’s a lot of bribery and they have a lot of power. And unfortunately from what I’ve gathered, California’s headed that way, where we have a lot of laws and we are making more and more laws and some of them are not possible to follow. I can be a really good restaurant owner, but I’m hiring my staff from schools and maybe one of them is in bad mood and he hands out the plastic fork and knife. I told him not to do it, but he’s doing that. Maybe he handed out to 10 people. Do I have to pay a big penalty for that? And so what am I going to do? I have to know the person that works in the government office, the bureau that’s in control of this. If I have a really good relationship with them, then they won’t enforce it on me. So, this is what can happen here.
Mr. Jekielek: And that’s fascinating because basically what you’re saying is like creating too many laws, creating this mass of laws actually creates a situation where corruption becomes more rampant because of that. There’s just being too much stuff to deal with. That’s fascinating. Tell me a little bit about your background actually.
Mr. Khorrami: So I grew up in Iran until I was 16. Then I lived in Mexico City. Then I came here. Then I went to China and helped a family member build a company. So I worked in China. I understood how it works, the system. I had to deal with the government a lot. And then I built it. I came back. I tried to build a hedge fund, and timed it really well in 2008, unfortunately it didn’t work out. And then I built a technology company.
And then from there I decided to join the Epic Times. And I’ve seen the American culture here, the way the American system works. I’ve seen it inside companies. We admit to failures. We’re not afraid of failures. We talk about them. We say we’re sorry, and we can recover from it. In China, that doesn’t happen. Nobody says they made a mistake. You won’t see that. Unfortunately in California government, we are seeing the same culture that I saw in China, where nobody admits to a failure.
We had a big fraud, that employment development department, EDD, of California, had give $20 billion of checks to people for unemployment during the pandemic. He even give it to prisoners, people that were in prison for life, $20 billion. Nobody came out and said, “I’m sorry, we made a mistake. We should have ran this department better.” Nobody said that. And this is something we’re losing in the state. There’s also other values that we have here. One of them is diversity of opinion and thought.
I’ve seen, this is something unique to the US where I’ve seen like you go to a football game and you can see different fans of different teams, they’re talking, they’re having a good time, and they’re watching the game together. You’re in a company. The executives allow other deferring opinions to come to the table and discuss and come up with solutions. In California, we are running this state with only one way of thinking. And it’s pretty extreme. Even the Democrats, which majority of the state is Democrats. But within the democratic party, there is one voice. And they’re not even accepting other ideas within their own party. I mean, the Democrats here are afraid of questioning or publicly talking anything that could be negative about that ideology. They’re afraid of talking about.
Also another factor that I’ve seen that here in the corporate world, what I’ve noticed is we are very action oriented. We look at problems, we solve them. We make things happen. Unfortunately in California government, we are not doing that. We have so many different problems like homelessness and like fires, water shortage, drought and water shortage and power shortage. And we are not really dealing with them. We are just having programs after programs, after programs and nobody’s taking action. We’re not taking any serious action. It is very similar to how the Chinese Communist Party was doing things in China.
And I have this story when I was in China, I got invited to an American Chamber Of Commerce event. And the mayor of Beijing was there. And somebody asked a question that they dare to ask this question, like, “What are you guys doing about the air pollution in China, in Beijing?” The mayor deferred the question to his weather man. The person who was in charge of the air quality got up and said, “Beijing has 260 clear days and we’re working very hard and getting it better.” And on my table, everybody smiled, because we all live there.
We know there’s not even 60 clear days in Beijing, but nothing happened. And this is what’s happening in the California government too. When leaders of the state, when leaders are talking about issues like homelessness and they want to allocate $15 billion or $5 billion to build housing for the homeless, when they get up there and say, “This program has worked really well.” Nobody’s asking a question.
So we had this program in this state where we were supposed to build in LA, we were supposed to build studios at $120,000, a studio unit for homeless. And the city allocated $1.2 million. People paid the tax to make this happen. Each unit is costing the city between $600,000 to $800,000. And when the government officials from the city of LA stand up behind the podium and say, “This is a great program, it’s working well,” the newspapers will report that. They’re not going to give you the data of how it went, where it is, how many houses they’ve built, how many homeless is off the street because of this program. So the media is not telling the people and the people trust the media. And the government-
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, that’s interesting. ‘Cause that might shock some of our viewers that the people trust the media so credulously. Why is that?
Mr. Khorrami: It’s very interesting. So, a big portion of the population is immigrants. One of the things that’s very interesting is when you come here as an immigrant, because I’ve lived in Iran, Mexico, and China. And when you come here as an immigrant to US and California, two things you’re going to believe in; one is the media, the other one is the government. And sometimes this is shocking to people.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I think it probably is shocking to a lot of people to hear you say that.
Mr. Khorrami: And the reason for that is that most of the places that I’ve lived in and most of the immigrants have seen when they come to US, this is a much better place. The media here is much better. You can criticize presidents, you can say what you want. And also the government, usually at the city county level, it performs a lot better than the bureaucrats there or the dictators that you were dealing with in the country you’re coming from. And a good portion of Californians are immigrants. So a lot of people, there’s a lot of trust in the media here. And for a decade, I believed in the legacy media more than a decade, I believe, until I had a personal experience.
I heard about there was a persecution going on in China. I heard about organ harvesting that’s happening to prisoners of conscious, like follow up for practitioners, [inaudible 00:21:44] and Tibetan monks. And I got passionate about this cause because nobody was talking about it. And I decided to start a nonprofit raising awareness on this, on social media. And there was a house resolution that got passed in 2016, the resolution was condemning this persecution in China.
And it was proving that they’re doing organ harvesting to prisoners of conscious. And when this house resolution got passed, CNN had like a couple of sentences about the resolution and they had two big paragraph explaining why the Chinese government needs to do this. They need the organs, they have to do this. I was shocked. Unfortunately, most immigrants don’t see that. They trust the legacy media. And also a lot of people trust these brands. When you have these newspapers that have been in business for many years and you’ve read them and you trust them, who else is going to do that job?
And so there’s a big element of trust. But, this trust would get eroded at some point, when it gets to a point. And I think we’re getting close to that now, when you see things on the street, when you have encampment in front of your house, and LA Times, or San Francisco Chronicle, or the papers that you trust and you believe them and you like them, didn’t tell you about these policies. Then you start questioning, should I trust these papers or what are they doing? In these papers I just mentioned, a lot of these papers they have really good reporters, but at the same time, they’re ideologically aligned with these policies. And so they have become blind. They’re not seeing the flaws with these policies. Somehow they’ve gotten into thinking these policies are the right way to go.
If you look at homelessness, we have had multiple solutions to homelessness, which we had one main solution to homelessness, which is build housing for the homeless. And we have tried it in LA. We’re doing it more in California now. In LA, there was a measure that was passed. $1.2 billion was allocated to build studios for the homeless at $120,000 cost per studio. The project started, they were supposed to build 10,000 units.
Up to date, after eight years of being into it, they’ve only built 1142 studio units. And the cost has been between 600,000 to $800,000 per unit. And it could almost go to 1 million per unit for a studio. They were promising to house at about 20,000 people. And only about 2300 people have been housed. And when government officials talk about this program, when they go behind the podium and give a speech about it, none of the reporters confront them with these numbers and facts. And when people of LA read or other parts of the state read their paper, their favorite papers, they don’t think that this money got wasted or this is happening in their state. So the state is spending more money on this. Last year, we allocated $5.4 million, and we’re still going the same direction.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s a billion, right?
Mr. Khorrami: Billion, $5.4 billion to build 40,000 plus homes. But there is no questioning of these policies from the papers.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. And just very briefly, how is it possible that the costs are so high?
Mr. Khorrami: So what they said after the audit, they said that there was some of the money went to consultants for construction. It’s questionable where the money went and who did it go to and why does it cost that much. Because, you can buy a studio for a lot less than building it. There’s also another factor here in California, that we have a lot of special interest. And even you think of a special interest, you think of like big companies and unions.
And here we have this other element of a special interest that is coming on; there is nonprofits, a lot of nonprofits under good causes. They are getting involved in the California government. And on top of the unions, which unions are some of the biggest donors to campaigns and there’s developers, there’s different law firms. There’s different people that are involved that will make a lot of money when the city of LA spends $1.2 billion on housing, they make a lot of the money.
Another problem that’s happening here is that these special interests have becoming bolder and bolder. And they’re actually, they’ve gotten to a point where they pick the people that they want to put in office. And it’s also coming down to the cities, at the city level, local offices. And sometimes their policies don’t make any sense for the public, but they don’t make a lot of sense for the special interest. And our politicians are actually essentially working. You can see them working for a special interest.
Mr. Jekielek: So based on everything you’ve seen now with your documentary and beyond, where do you see all this going?
Mr. Khorrami: So, on one hand we just had the election in California and the participation was very low. But it shows that Californians are still, to some level the majority of Californians still haven’t reached a point that they, they want to change or challenge these policies. But on other hand, we have a group of Californians that are starting a movement. There was a recall of school board members in San Francisco. There was a recall of the district attorney in San Francisco. And there was a recall of the district attorney in Los Angeles that just got the signatures. So there is these movements of people that are fed up and frustrated and they want to make a change. And what’s interesting about these movements is a lot of them are democratic oriented recalls.
So the founders of the school board recalls were Democrats, and they were immigrants. The founders of the recall of Chesa Boudin was Democrats. And the one in LA was nonpartisan. So it’s like there seems to be a group of people in California that are starting to get fed up and they are actually, they might start this change. And as things get worse, unfortunately, and people see the result of these policies, more and more Californians would come out and want to change. Because, this is a great place. The weather is really good. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs here. There’s a lot of people that are movers and shakers that build companies and do things and innovate. And as these people get impacted, they have only two choice; one, to leave California or to stay and make or change it.
Mr. Jekielek: So given everything you know after doing this documentary, what do you see as the immediate kind of good policy decisions that could be made?
Mr. Khorrami: One of the things that I noticed is that we go from one extreme to another extreme. We get emotional and we actually move to an extreme way of dealing with an issue. We wanted to do a criminal justice reform, but we have actually eliminated the criminal justice system, based on what I gathered on the ground. What we would have to do is we have to get these laws back and bring some level of control. And when we see one or two cases here and there’s injustice here and there, we have to understand that sometimes injustice happens, but it doesn’t mean that we have to change the whole system because somebody was not treated well.
And a lot of times when people question the police force or they question the criminal justice system, there’s thousands of people working in these organizations. You can have a few bad apples and they can cause big problems, but it doesn’t mean that the whole system is bad. Living in Mexico City, if I get lost in Mexico City, the last person I want to ask is the police, because I don’t know if they’re good or bad. There’s a lot of corruption in the police force.
Here, in the police force we have here, for the most part, 99.999% of the people can be trusted. And we kind of take that for granted, that the criminal justice system here, it’s much better than any other place. And there is cases of injustice, but we should not get emotional and change the whole system that we’ve built for cases here and there. We should try to figure out how we can fix it within or how we can understand these cases better and adjust case by case.
Mr. Jekielek: So hold the people accountable who need to be held accountable, where either mistakes were made or corruption happened or whatever, but it doesn’t need to be a whole revamp.
Mr. Khorrami: It doesn’t need to be a whole revamp of eliminating the system and creating something new, because we have done a lot of work to get to where we are. The most important thing is changing policies and also changing the mindset of the people that are making the policies. They need to really quickly realize that we are on the wrong path. There’s no accountability. You can go and steal whatever you want and walk out of the store and do it again the next day. And you can go and use it on drugs and sleep on the street. And nobody would tell you anything. This is not right. You should do things in a different way. So one of the things that has to happen is that as a society, we should not tolerate somebody walking to a store and taking stuff and going out, this is not a good culture.
This is not a good thing for people to see. And facing no consequences is not good for this society. And it starts with stealing $900 at the time, and now it’s getting bigger and bigger. And where in LA you can get followed home, somebody will take your car. And if we are not doing anything about it, this criminal element would get more comfortable and more confident and more bold. We are going the route of making things easier and easier and easier. And because we want to be nice to this group of people, or those group of people, those group of people, but we are losing the society as a whole.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Siyamak Khorrami, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Khorrami: Thank you so much for having me Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Siyamak Khorrami and me. His documentary again is California Crime Wave. And you can be watched right here on Epoch TV. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
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