SAN JOSÉ — Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco (D5) and Matt Mahan (D10), recently released a proposal in response to an uptick in violent crime affecting residents, and theft crimes in small businesses since 2021. Their proposal focuses on reducing the surge of pretrial releases of serious and violent felons, expanding arrestees’ access to drug treatment and other alternatives to street life, and leveraging technology to reduce burglary and theft of small businesses in high-crime neighborhoods.
Background: Rising Violent Crime and Its Causes
While San Jose continues to have a very low homicide rate – likely the lowest of any major US city – increases in other violent crimes over the last two years, such as robbery, rape, and assault have focused the attention of city leaders to act. This rise comes despite substantial investments in proven strategies for crime reduction in the last half decade, which include:
⦁ The expansion of SJPD by more than 200 officers
⦁ Launch of programs providing jobs to hundreds of young adults in high-crime neighborhoods, such as the SJ Resilience Corps and San Jose Works
⦁ Expansion of Project Hope, a community-based interventions that empowers and engages residents in high-need neighborhoods
⦁ Implementation of “walking beats” in high-crime neighborhoods
⦁ Regulations designed to halt illegal gun store sales (“straw purchases”) to criminal gangs
⦁ Expansion of mental health response units, and civilian response to lower-priority calls for service
The rise in violent crime has many complex and uncertain causes, the Mayor and councilmembers acknowledge, particularly given the higher rates of violence in large cities nationally.
Locally, however, factors in the rising violent crime rate appear to include, at a minimum, (1) a rising rate of pretrial releases of many felony arrestees who would have been detained prior to the pandemic, and (2) the persistent scourge of untreated methamphetamine addiction among many arrestees.
A “Revolving Door” at the Jail
First, police officers and community members have expressed frustration with the “revolving door” at the jail, where a troubling number of arrests for assault, burglary, and other felony charges return to the street within hours due to pandemic-era jail capacity restrictions. The data shows:
⦁ The County’s ⦁ jail population has dropped by about 1800 inmates since 2014, to a level nearly half of the jail system’s capacity, particularly under pandemic-era health orders;
⦁ In many months, ⦁ nearly half of the arrestees released pretrial committed a new offense or failed to appear for court according to County data in June 2021;
⦁ SJPD tabulated that in a single 14-month period, police officers arrested and re-arrested 30 individuals at least 10 times, with one “frequent flyer” earning 19 arrests – many of them felonies.
⦁ San Jose has seen several troubling examples of releases of arrestees facing homicide, child molestation, and other serious charges, including:
⦁ A defendant arrested for child molestation in November 2020 was released the following day on his own recognizance–over the DA’s objection – and failed to appear for court weeks later. After his re-arrest in Texas, SJPD and the DA’s office extradited him, and booked him into Santa Clara County in November 2021. He was released again – over the DA’s objection – on $100,000 bail.
⦁ In 2019, the Santa Clara County District Attorney (DA) charged Kevin Jones with a crime of domestic violence, and he was arrested on two occasions in 2021 in other counties on that charge. Each time, jail capacity issues resulted in his release by those agencies, and each time, Jones failed to appear for court in Santa Clara County; two bench warrants issued in early 2022. On March 13, 2022, he invaded his parents’ Alviso home, and stabbed them both, killing his father.
⦁ On Halloween last year, after a driver collided with several other cars, two men in one of the damaged cars followed the driver to Great Oaks Parkway, and shot and killed him. The murder suspect was released for home confinement, while his accessory-–charged with assault with a deadly weapon–was released on his own recognizance in November.
⦁ On January 10, 2021, a 41-year-old man was arrested in San José for a murder involving a weapon. After the filing of manslaughter charges, he was released on his own recognizance over the objection of the DA. He fled to Mexico, and remains at large.
⦁ On February 25, 2022, Harry Goularte was arraigned on charges of molestation of a 4-year-old child, but was released without bail, over the objection of the DA, for home confinement with electronic monitoring. (A relative of the child, UFC Champion Cain Velasquez, was subsequently arrested for attempted murder of Goularte.)
⦁ After committing a violent felony in San Joaquin County, a methamphetamine addict violated his felony probation by committing domestic violence in Santa Clara County in June of 2020. He was released without bail, over the objection of the DA, and weeks later, failed to appear for court. In November of that year, he stabbed and killed multiple residents of a Downtown homeless shelter.
⦁ Finally, the perpetrator of the horrific killing of Bambi Larson in 2019 had been previously released twice in prior months from County jail, after nearly a dozen arrests for methamphetamine use, theft, and violent crime –⦁ several with “sexual overtones”– and after County health staff diagnosed him with psychosis.
The Role of Methamphetamine
These challenges appear exacerbated by the high rate of untreated methamphetamine addiction among arrestees without treatment.
Despite widespread media attention to opiates like fentanyl, County treatment admissions records cite methamphetamine use more frequently than all other illicit drugs combined.
Seventy percent of law enforcement agencies in the Western US identify methamphetamine as the drug that poses the greatest threat to their community.
One reported survey of arrests in SJPD’s Street Crimes unit revealed meth to be used by 60 percent of drug-involved arrestees, many of whom were unhoused. Methamphetamine sales amounts to the second most frequently charged felony in this County, after second-degree burglary.
Meth constitutes the most lethal, most violence-inducing drug on San José’s streets. Its acute impacts as a stimulant – including excitability and irritability – induce violent behavior.
Sustained use contributes to an alarming rate of psychosis that produces even more antisocial, violent, and criminal behavior, particularly under more recent chemical formulations of the drug’s manufacture. It also appears distressingly effective at killing its users, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all drug-related deaths in this County.
Despite the gravity of its impact, treatment options appear very scarce – particularly for individuals in the criminal justice system–and inpatient beds virtually nonexistent.
Judges, drug treatment experts, and community members express frustration at the lack of any “third options” – such as inpatient treatment – between jail and the release of addicted arrestees into vulnerable communities.
The proposal seeks to engage the City in working with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system and better reduce crime:
⦁ Re-arrest Repeat Felony and Violent Offenders: Deployment of SJPD officers to execute warrants to re-arrest serious and violent offenders who have failed to appear in court on their charges
⦁ Detain High-Risk Arrestees: Coordination and bolstering of resources for law enforcement for affidavits and arraignment hearings for serious and violent felons to reduce the likelihood of their release, and advocating for changes to the bail schedule
⦁ Expand Access for Released Arrestees to Detoxification and Treatment: Determine how the City and other partners can leverage identified state funding to build dormitory housing with outpatient beds, on-site detoxification and treatment for drug-involved arrestees
⦁ Relief for Victimized Small Businesses: Provide relief and resources for small businesses victimized by “⦁ frequent flyer” burglars and vandals, with the ⦁ help of technology, and coordination needed to support arrest warrants
⦁ Improve Accountability and Inform Policy: Work with local agencies to shine a light on the consequences of pretrial release policies and practices to better inform policymakers and the public.
“Releasing individuals facing violent and serious felony charges imperils our most vulnerable communities,” said Liccardo. “We support sensible alternatives to jail–and we push for better access to drug treatment for arrestees–but we must not prioritize emptying our jails over the safety of our community.”
“When you’re under the influence of substances like methamphetamines, your mind is in an altered state,” said Carrasco. “You become hostile, and unpredictable — a danger to yourself and your community. This policy focuses on those offenders at the intersection of substance abuse and violent crime, and will keep our neighborhoods safe.”
“Depopulating our jails isn’t a viable public safety strategy,” said Mahan. “We’ve seen too much abuse of well-intended criminal justice reforms. It’s just common sense that repeat offenders, high-risk arrestees, and those who fail to appear for trial should be detained until their day in court.”
In California, cities typically lack authority, control, or resources over drug and mental health treatment, jails, probation, prosecution, courts, or prison but as Liccardo noted, “San Jose residents bear the burden of all of the decisions made by institutions within the criminal justice system, so the City has the responsibility to join other stakeholders at the table to find solutions.”