A stranger approached her in the hallway of her apartment complex on South Ventura Avenue in early June. “Do you know where I can get some glass?” the man asked. Either not understanding the question or feigning ignorance, the woman shook her head and quickly walked away.
Near Plaza Park in Downtown Ventura, a person was asked to leave when he began to lay out camping equipment in front of an office building. During a conversation with the man, he relayed that the local homeless population was in search of and doing what he called “glass.”
Glass is one of many names given to methamphetamine. Crystal, ice, speed are also names for the same drug, meth for short. In Ventura, the problem, while anecdotally pervasive, isn’t one that hasn’t already been an issue. In fact, according to Ventura Police Department’s Sgt. Tom Higgins, the increase in demand may have to do with the price of other drugs.
“It is a cheaper drug where heroin was at one point the cheaper of the drug and that was commonly used,” said Higgins. “But now the price has increased.”
Higgins says that he hasn’t “really heard of any incidents involving glass” and that Sgt. Jerry Foreman, who is in charge of the patrol task force, hasn’t seen an influx in the usage of glass, either.
What has changed, however, is the way drug crimes are being handled on the streets, particularly in the jail inmate population.
After voters approved the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, which redefined some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors rather than as felonies, officers in both the city and county of Ventura have changed the way drug-related offenses are handled.
“Five years ago, if you got stopped and had a bag of meth you got booked into county jail and you’d be there for 30 days or so,” said Ventura Police Sgt. Terry Medina. “Now if you get stopped with that same amount, you’d get a ticket, like a traffic ticket, and sent away.”
Eight months after the passage of Prop. 47, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office has released preliminary statistics regarding the jail population and the makeup of inmates and offenders.
While felony court filings have decreased by an estimated 54 percent since November, misdemeanor filings are projected to increase by 30.5 percent for 2015. As felony bookings decline, misdemeanor warrant arrests are up by 18 percent.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean says that he believes that Prop. 47 has led to an increase in crime in the Sheriff’s Department’s jurisdictions.
“I’m starting to be convinced that Prop. 47 is having a significant impact on the increase in not only property crimes but violent crimes, too,” said Dean. “A lot of them are substance-abuse offenders and they’re committing robberies and we’ve seen a significant increase in assaults.”
Dean says that prior to Prop. 47, when the possession of methamphetamine and other drugs were felonies, offenders would go to jail and be required to attend treatment programs, released again on probation. Now, many offenders are being ticketed and not made to attend the programs.
“While the proponents of Prop. 47 believe what they said, I believe they misled the public,” said Dean, adding that one of the effects of Prop. 47, that money would be diverted from jails to public schools, has yet to be seen. “The problem is that it got a bunch of [drug offenders] out of jail but it also got them out of treatment.”
Ventura County jails offer drug rehabilitation programs as a result of realignment, says Dean, but because of Prop. 47 drug offenders who receive misdemeanor citations will not have access to such programs. Realignment is the result of Assembly Bill 109, which sentenced nonsexual, nonviolent offenders in jail rather than in prison to reduce prison overcrowding.
“While they’re in custody, we provide those programs and then do a warm handoff to treatment providers out in the community . . .. At least they had a chance to break that cycle of addiction. Now they’re not getting that and it’s very sad.”
Dean says that, while statistics countywide are not yet available, crime rates have increased in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction over the past eight months.
A study released by the National Association of Counties shows that, compared to the national average, Ventura County has a higher percentage of high-risk individuals (56 percent) as part of the county jail population than low-risk (44 percent), suggesting that Prop. 47 is keeping lower level offenders out of jail. High risk offenders are criminals who are convicted of felonies.