There’s a great back and forth between George and Elaine on the sitcom “Seinfeld.” Elaine asks George if he thinks a certain guy is good looking. George seems put off by the question and awkwardly answers, I don’t know. Elaine, sensing George’s discomfort says, you know, George, just because you think a man is good looking, it doesn’t necessarily make you a homosexual, to which George replies, it doesn’t help.
Is crime is out of control because of SB91? It doesn’t help.
There are plenty of apologists for the legislation claiming the unprecedented recent spike in crime is caused by opioid abuse, budget cuts leading to fewer prosecutions, and inadequate APD staffing. Maybe.
But SB 91, which has been law for a little more than a year, takes jail out of the equation for non-felons arrested for things like breaking into cars, houses, and businesses or stealing guns or PFD theft.
Why wouldn’t a criminal steal a car or break into a home if they knew all they would get is what amounts to a citation? Like a salmon caught during a slow run on the Kenai, it’s catch and release for these guys.
Before SB91, stealing a car would get you two years in jail. After SB91 all you get is probation. You have to get caught stealing a car twice before going to jail. First arrest you get a mulligan. No wonder auto thefts were up 73 percent in 2016 over 2015.
In some cases even with convicted felons, SB91 offers a get out of jail free card for crimes like shoplifting. Who’s the brain behind the idea to allow convicted felons shoplifting rights? Why not just walk right back into the store and steal something else and let cops give you a second, third, or fourth citation?
Newsflash. The threat of jail deters crime. The promise of no jail encourages it.
Where SB91 is most dangerous is in the early release of criminals shortening their sentences by as much as a third. We are just beginning to see the full impact of this now that SB91 has been on the books since July of last year. There are a whole bunch of criminals on the street today that would still be locked up if it were not for SB91.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz caught a lot of heat last week when he said about the city he runs, ”If you’re not engaged in drug trafficking and not out after midnight, it’s a very safe city.” The mayor later apologized.
One look at your average Facebook timeline and you’ll see how many people are being targeted by criminals. It’s out of control! The public perception, whether true or not, is the spike in crime has correlated with the passage of SB91.
I asked Mr. Berkowitz whether he thought SB91 was the cause of the rise of crime and he told me he can’t quantify it. He says there are many factors including the need for more prohibition officers, rehabilitation services and more cops on the street.
Mr. Berkowitz says APD only had 350 cops when he took office and since then he’s added 65 more but most of those new hires are still in training. Right now Berkowitz says, “Bad guys know there’s not enough cops to chase them.”
But even if the cops catch the bad guys, thanks to SB91 a whole bunch of them will never see the inside of a jail cell.
SB91 was sold as a way to save the state money by cutting back on public safety costs. It’s an easy fix requiring no courage or costing lawmakers any political capital. Legislators and the governor are often reluctant to cut government spending because each dollar usually comes with a special interest attached. Letting criminals out of jail early to save the state money won’t anger anyone until it makes our streets unsafe. Well that didn’t take long.
Last week Governor Walker announced he will ask legislators to fix SB91 during the upcoming special session. The governor’s office has expressed concern to some legislators that SB91 architect and supporter Gabriel LeDoux will stand in his way.
My thought is just as each U.S. Senator who voted for Obamacare lost their election two years later, so it will be for supporters of SB91. When you pass a law that makes people feel less safe in their home, they don’t forget it.
Dan Fagan is a former reporter for KTUU, and columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. He also taught at UAA as an adjunct journalism professor and he hosted a radio show for many years on KFQD. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.