Khamis: It’s time to talk about crime
The Elmwood Correctional Facility is pictured in this file photo.

Are you tired of hearing about another freeway shooting, coordinated mass burglaries of retailers and increases in homicides every time you turn on the news? Are you frightened by the rise in car break-ins and in-home burglaries? I am! In response to this growing fear for their safety, more of our residents are purchasing cameras and guns to try and protect themselves.

Like many in our community, I question why there is such a drastic increase in crimes.

Are some of the new laws to blame? Have all the recently passed state laws and ballot measures which reduced criminal penalties, responsible for the increased criminal behavior? Is increasing the number of police officers the answer? What are we doing to avoid recidivism?

For many years, we have heard our prisons are overcrowded. The U.S. Supreme Court insisted something be done about the overcrowding in our prison system. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109—and AB 117—commonly referred to as the “prison realignment bill” which reclassified crimes and their prison sentences.

Since 2012, voters have passed Propositions 36, 47 and 57. In fact, in April 2021, our governor released 76,000 third strike offenders and local jails released thousands of criminals from COVID concerns. These changes have led to many vacancies in our once overcrowded jails. As a result, this left the Santa Clara County jails relatively empty. The Santa Clara County “South Hall Jail” with over 400 rooms was demolished in 2019.  To be built in its place, but is currently on hold, is a long-awaited state-of-the-art facility with onsite mental health services.

Are these laws we enacted endangering our communities? While I support many alternatives to incarceration, I, like our former San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia, think that the pendulum of justice has swung too far to the side of the criminal. How many crimes are being committed by offenders who were released early from the system under these new laws? There has been several studies about what the right size of the new county jail needs to be, yet no local study has been done on recidivism. With the continuing increase in crimes, now is the time to talk about crime and recidivism.

Is increasing our police forces truly the only answer? Are criminal punishments adequate to deter crime and encourage accountability? Many people are crying out for more law enforcement officers in our community. While there is a definite need for more law enforcement in our understaffed agencies, more police should not be the only answer. We should also look to see if punishments are adequate to deter crime and encourage accountability. We need to look at the need for modifications to laws like Prop 47. We need to demand our state leaders pass laws like the 2020 Prop. 20 ballot measure which could have fixed many problems in the criminal justice system, had it passed. We need to build the new jail that was approved and funded in 2016 and delayed by county leaders with several costly studies that all said we need a new jail.

We need to look at all reintegration programs for people leaving the jails to make sure they are working and have measurable outcomes. We need to fix the no-bail bond releasing system that puts criminals back on the streets as soon as they are apprehended, even for murder suspects.

If we remain silent about rising crime and fixing our criminal justice system, we will end up with more guns in our homes, more lawlessness on our streets and more distrust of our public servants and government. I ask our state and local elected officials to focus on solutions to the rising crime and get us some results.

Johnny Khamis is a former San Jose councilmember representing District 10. He now works as a public relations consultant for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors and is running for District 1 county supervisor.

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