As an active-duty officer in one of the largest police departments in the country, I can attest to the deteriorating state of our criminal justice system. The fiction promulgated to the American public that criminals are the victims of society has taken us down a road filled with land mines from which it will be difficult to recover.
The crime rate has increased in almost every major city in the United States, with violent crime leading the statistics. From a law enforcement perspective, it is clear that a large percentage of violent crime is driven by the unwillingness of district attorneys and judges to hold people accountable.
After an arrest, criminal defendants are frequently released on a personal “no-cash” bond. This is simply the offender swearing that he or she will return to court as ordered. However, there are no real ramifications should they fail to appear.
Theoretically, a warrant for arrest should be issued by the court, but too often what happens is a letter is sent to the defendant, and they are automatically given a rescheduled court date. As troubling as that sounds, of the many offenders who are simply released, a large percentage commit new crimes within weeks. This has created a revolving door with the local jail.
Across America, radical alterations have been made to our criminal justice system based upon promises that changes would result in vast improvements. Some were plainly ridiculous, such as the presumption that cutting the number of police would lead to less violence. Advocates in Oregon declared that decriminalizing hard drug laws would lead to less drug use. In California, they decriminalized theft for amounts under $950, arguing it would make us safer. Time and evidence have shown the fallacy of these wildly misplaced ideas.
The worst fears of law enforcement were confirmed in a study conducted by the district attorney for Yolo County in California. It showed that of 595 people released on zero bail, 420 were rearrested. The study also concluded that releasing defendants increased crime in every category.
The same thing occurs in Harris County, Texas, where I work. Realizing that they will not be held accountable for their actions, members of criminal groups are being rearrested at an extremely high rate. This is not just a matter of officers picking up “the usual suspects.” Criminal courts are buckling under the strain of so much crime and are nearing collapse. They are overwhelmed by ever-growing backlogs, with retail stores closing because they cannot overcome brazen shoplifting. Meanwhile, companies are moving away because they can no longer provide basic security for their employees.
Even with probable cause, there is pressure to dismiss cases to keep our teetering court systems going. This inability to keep defendants, especially violent offenders, behind bars frustrates law enforcement and citizens victimized by these crimes. Across the country, numerous accounts of offenders released on no-cash or low-cash bonds, later assaulting or even killing the victims who reported them.
The rate of domestic abuse — especially murders — is much higher than in the past. It is difficult to tell a victim they will be safe. While their assailant might be going to jail for a moment, we all know they will soon be back on the streets.
The many promises supporting bail reform have proved to be false. We must turn away from ideals that may have sounded good on paper but, in practice, have been shown to be unworkable. No officer believes a person should stay in jail just because they do not have the resources to post a bond. But we are seeing too many cases where violent offenders out on bond are rearrested, then released again on a low or no-cash bond.
Public safety is under assault while the cycle keeps repeating. While protecting our communities is the primary job of law enforcement, it can only do so if our courts keep violent offenders from victimizing others in our society.