California initiative reducing penalties for crimes triggers 52,000 fewer arrests
SACRAMENTO — A 2014 California voter-approved initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and property crimes has led to the lowest arrest rate in state history as police frequently ignore those illegal activities, experts say.
Proposition 47 lowered criminal sentences by reducing them from felonies that can bring long prison sentences to misdemeanors that instead bring up to a year in jail.
Recent state Department of Justice statistics show the number of felony arrests plummeted 28.5 percent last year, while misdemeanor arrests rose about 9 percent over 2014. That resulted in 52,000 fewer arrests overall and the lowest arrest rate since record-keeping began in 1960.
“It's really driven by changes in drug and property arrests,” said Public Policy Institute of California researcher Magnus Lofstrom, who studies the issue. “I think it's quite clear that Prop. 47 is the major contributor to the changes we've seen.”
Last year's decline in arrests, with the fewest felony arrests since 1969, is part of a long-term decline dating to the 1980s that has been spurred by the law as well as crowded jails and fewer police, Lofstrom said.
It's too soon to say whether the changes are helping spur rising crime rates, though Lofstrom and other researchers are watching the relationship closely.