'Safe Neighborhoods Act' Off to State for November Vote

4/24/2008 Fresno, CA Sheriff Margaret Mims and Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said criminals should fear the proposal because it would impose stiffer jail sentences and gang members would face tougher punishment for carrying guns.

The goal of this new bill called the "Safe Neighborhoods Act" is to keep residents safe.

Robert Villa has lived in an East Central Fresno neighborhood for the last year and a half. He said it's relatively quiet and safe but in the past few months he's seen an increase in criminal activity. "We've had our cars broken into and my apartment has been burglarized during Christmas," said Villa.

And just weeks after Christmas a 12-hour standoff with S.W.A.T. took place right down from Villa's house. Police arrested two gang members for robbing and beating a nearby resident.

This crime and others involving gang activity in the Valley is one of the many reasons Mike Reynolds said he wrote the "Safe Neighborhoods Act." "If you can't walk your streets safely then everything else collapses around it," said Reynolds.

Reynolds also wrote the "Three Strikes" law which gives criminals an automatic life sentence if convicted of three separate felonies.

During a news conference in downtown Fresno, Reynolds and local leaders claimed the bill would give law enforcement agencies in California the resources needed to do their job effectively.

Across the street protesters argued this new bill would lead to overcrowding in jails--an issue Fresno County has dealt with in the past.

Ann Perkins with the California Prison Moratorium Project said, "All three strikes accomplished was to get the prison population to the point where it is not safe for inmates or for staff. It is so overcrowded." But Sheriff Margaret Mims disagreed: "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem."

Sheriff Mims said the bill would address overcrowding, for example placing non-violent offenders such as drug users in counseling programs instead of jail. "We have programs we need to make sure they work. That's where we need to be investing the money with the 'Safe Neighborhoods Act,'" said Mims.

Funding for this bill would come from the State's general budget and would add no new taxes.

The bill will hit the floor in November for a vote. If passed it would go into effect June of next year.

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