LANCASTER – City Council members Tuesday night voted 4-0, with Mayor R. Rex Parris absent, to introduce a program they say would counter the criminal impact on local communities due to recent state laws.
To discourage people from committing crimes such as shoplifting, theft, buying or receiving stolen property, unlawful dumping, vandalism, and other nonviolent crimes within the city of Lancaster, offenders would face big fines under the city’s proposed Administrative Citation Program. Local law enforcement would be given authority to cite offenders $500 for the first offense, and $1,000 for every offense afterward. [Read the ordinance here.]
“So the bottom line of what we’re trying to accomplish here is to tell our citizens to behave themselves and follow the rules,” Vice Mayor Chair Marvin Crist clarified at Tuesday’s meeting. “If the state of California wants to transfer the burden to the county or to the cities, this is our last measure that we have to accomplish that.”
Lee D’Errico Jr., Lancaster’s Public Safety Manager, explained the negative impact that recent state laws have had on local communities, such as the AB 109 Prison Realignment and the reduction of felony offenses to misdemeanors under Proposition 47.
“We’ve seen diminishing results in terms of the punitive issues related to incarceration times,” D’Errico said at the start of Tuesday’s public hearing. “We’re certainly going in a direction that I think is appropriate based on what is occurring, while developing some process out there that actually prevents people from committing those types of crimes which are typically not going to be managed through the judicial process.”
Under the recently-approved state Proposition 47, criminal offenses such as theft, shoplifting, receipt of stolen property, and other crimes where the value of stolen items does not exceed $950, must now be charged as misdemeanors.
According to Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Corbett, the ordinance is an administrative procedure and an administrative penalty that a deputy or other designated officer may use as an alternative to pursuing misdemeanor criminal proceedings through the district attorney’s office and the courts.
Corbett said the ordinance clearly affords the alleged offender their due process of rights under the law and gives the opportunity to appeal the citation before an independent hearing officer.
When a citation is upheld and an offender fails to pay the fine, Corbett said the ordinance identifies special methods for collecting unpaid administrative penalties, such as recording a lien or imposing a special assessment on real property, collecting the amount through the state Franchise Tax Board from personal state income tax refunds, or even taking it from an individual’s state lottery winnings.
“We realize that this is cutting edge,” Corbett said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t know of any other city in Southern California that’s doing this at this point. We’re pushing the envelope, and we think rightly so.”
During the public hearing, Lancaster resident and former LAPD reserve officer Michael Rives told the City Council that, “This is a well-intentioned ordinance, but I think it’s wrong.” Rives cited the will of the California voters who passed Proposition 47 as the ultimate authority on “how people want to reduce crime.”
Michelle Egberts, of the AV-East Kern 2nd Chance Program, also spoke against the new ordinance, believing it would deny individuals the right to due process.
“It does not (give people due process),” Egberts argued with Vice Mayor Christ. “It still gives them a charge on their record. I’m not against people following the rules. I deal with people who didn’t follow the rules, while getting them empowered to get (their offenses) expunged.”
Crist responded to Egberts, saying, “I understand the compassion, but we have to have compassion for our businesses also. We have to have some type of protection – and the protection is a financial protection, and it does not incarcerate them. If you’re going to break the rules, we’re going to fine them.”
Egberts ended her comments by predicting that the ordinance would end up in court.
“And I would say that the city of Lancaster would welcome that,” Christ countered.
To which Egberts said: “Then we’ll see each other in court.”