California Law Enforcement Groups Advocate for Prop. 20

September 11, 2020 Updated: September 22, 2020

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Proposition 20, on the November ballot in California, will ask voters to undo previous bills that many law enforcement officials say have favored criminals and allowed them to get away with serious crimes. 

Prop. 20 would restrict early parole, recategorize crimes, and require DNA collection for some misdemeanors. 

Opponents of Prop. 20 say it would keep more people in prison, which costs the state money and leads to overcrowding, instead of emphasizing rehabilitation outside of prison. 

“We want the first-time offenders to be rehabilitated and get back into society and have a productive life,” Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association, said during a Zoom conference call on Sept. 4. 

“But for the people that are repeatedly violating the law knowingly—the professionals, the crime rings—there has to be an escalation of consequences.”

Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, helped draft Prop. 20. In the same Zoom meeting, she explained how the proposition would change existing laws.

In 2014, Prop. 47 was passed to reduce some felonies to misdemeanors. It also made it easier for criminals to get away with theft if the value of stolen goods totaled less than $950. Law enforcement officials have said thieves started organizing shoplifting rings as a result.

“Even if they’re caught, because it’s a misdemeanor, they receive a citation with a court date. They don’t go to jail,” said Ron Lawrence, the immediate past president of the California Police Chiefs Association. “Which means they can walk right across the street, go into the next store, and steal something else up to $950, and they’re still not going to jail.”

Prop. 47 also reduced many drug felonies to misdemeanors. It decreased the strength of drug courts by reducing the likelihood that addicts would go to those courts and received the rehabilitation services they promote, and limited the cases in which DNA is collected. 

Under Prop. 20, serial thefts would be monitored, and those with repeat offenses would receive increased punishment. A criminal caught stealing goods worth a total of $250 or more for the third time could be charged with a felony offense. 

The proposition would allow victims to be informed if their attacker is to be released early. It would also reinstate DNA collection for certain crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors under Prop. 47.

“This is important because multiple studies have shown that DNA collection from theft and drug offenses help solve violent crimes like murder, robberies, and rapes,” Hanisee said.

In 2016, Prop. 57 was passed to grant parole for nonviolent criminals. However, many serious offenses are categorized as nonviolent crimes, say proponents of Prop. 20.

According to Lawrence, felony domestic violence, solicitation to commit murder, rape of an unconscious person, and child trafficking are among such crimes not categorized as violent in California.

Under Prop. 20, some of the crimes would be redefined, and those who have committed severe offenses would be ineligible for release.

“It puts these violent crimes right back where they belong, right in the violent crime category. It doesn’t put more people in prison, but it does hold those bad actors accountable for their heinous crimes, and it gives a voice back to our victims,” Lawrence said.

According to a “No on Prop. 20” website, “Proposition 20 will roll back effective criminal justice reforms and waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on prisons.” 

“Crime victims and law enforcement leaders oppose Prop. 20 because it wastes tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on prisons while cutting the rehabilitation programs we know work—that makes us all less safe,” the website notes, citing William Lansdowne, a retired San Diego police chief.