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Lies Law Enforcement Tells Us

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Quick summary:

This week we’re taking a look at the false narratives, lies, and propaganda fed to folks in the Sacramento area (and across the country) about the “necessity” of law enforcement (LE). This is not a comprehensive list, but it will serve to demonstrate some of the untruths and deceptions that are commonly peddled, and deeply embedded, in our society around the need for law enforcement to protect “public safety”. Sac County Mail Jail pictured above

We’ll examine some deceitful messaging regarding LE, and discuss how it relates to the Sac County jail expansion currently being attempted by our county government. Some of these lies are not directly tied to the attempted jail expansion, but then again, messaging from LE about “public safety” and the importance of their institutions doesn’t stop or start at a jail expansion.

*because this article is primarily focused on how these lies relate to the jail expansion, most of the local statistics pulled will be specifically tied to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office (SSO), as it is the chief law enforcement agency in the county of Sacramento and runs the jails. But, of course, we know the Sacramento Police Department is no better

Table of Contents:

What are we being told?

Police attempt to achieve legitimacy through the stories they tell about themselves. Police legitimacy means public compliance. It means power…The core of policing is not safety. It is social control. All the other lies obfuscate this function.

- The New Republic article: “The Lies Cops Tell and the Lies We Tell About Cops” by Stuart Schrader, May 27th, 2021

1. The main function of the police is to investigate and solve crimes.

If we’re to agree with the idea that police are investigating and solving crimes, and therefore buy into the “need” for more jail beds, it must mean that throwing people into carceral facilities is an effective way to stop “crime” and ensure “public safety”...right? The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office (SSO) would have you believe that the SSO is effectively investigating and solving crimes, and thereby keeping us “safe”. We’d like to point out the abysmal clearance rates for solving crimes within the SSO.

  • In 2022 the SSO’s clearance rate for violent crime was 31.9% (budget of $617M in FY 2021/22) down from 33.5% in 2021 (budget of $592M in FY 2020/21)

    • Note the budget increase and clearance rate decrease from FY 2020/21 to FY 2021/22

*budget data pulled directly from Sac County’s Complete FY 2021-22 Adopted Budget​ document, pg. D-18

**clearance rate data pulled from Open Justice

According to the California Department of Justice, a reported crime is “cleared” when a suspect is arrested or charged. That means that someone doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime for it to be considered “cleared” by the Justice Department’s standards.

  • Check out a 2020 Sac News & Review article that also includes a detailed look at the SSO’s inability to effectively clear cases, their unwillingness to account for their missteps or take accountability or responsibility for their numerous failures…and despite all this, continuing to see their budget increase and, as this article says, exist as “one of the most well-resourced agencies in the region”

Graphic pictured above is from the same Sac News & Review article regarding the SSO’s clearance rates from 2019

Currently, it seems that the SSO continues to receive increased funding each year, regardless of their "performance".

We’re uplifting one more illuminating set of data, reported on by Reuters in November of 2022: "Police are not primarily crime fighters, according to the data".

This article takes a look at data and findings from a report by Catalyst California and the ACLU of Southern California demonstrating that police spend a very limited amount of time on crime control, and have not been shown to be effective in solving serious or violent crime. Findings in the report were informed by budgets and policing data in the following counties: Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, and San Diego. A few important quotes from the article can be found below:

Roughly three out of every four hours that Sacramento sheriff’s officers spent investigating traffic violations were for stops that ended in warnings, or no action...
'We found there is a significant inconsistency between their practices' and what the public might think police do...'It begs the question of why we keep doubling down on public safety strategies that have been proven time and time again to fail'

- Chauncee Smith, a senior manager at Catalyst California

Police 'have never successfully solved crimes with any regularity, as arrest and clearance rates are consistently low throughout history,' and police have never solved even a bare majority of serious crimes...

- University of Utah college of law professor Shima Baradaran Baughman

Existing research also affirms the findings in the recent report on police work in California.

This data shows us a clear picture of what LE officers in California are actually doing with their time - for a more in-depth understanding check out the report!

Let’s make no mistake about what LE actually does in regard to “crime”. They don’t stop it ahead of time, they respond after it happens. Obviously, the way in which they respond varies widely depending on the person/s they are responding to. People of color, and particularly Black folks, are disproportionately likely to be stopped, searched, and to experience use of force from LE. Of course, this isn’t even getting into how police systems are defining “crime” and “criminal activity”...

2. People inside the jails are dangerous, violent criminals.

This messaging comes from many places, but is strongly reinforced by law enforcement. In the Sacramento community, our Sheriffs in particular are responsible for engaging in this type of fear mongering. Below there is an example of this speech listed for both our former Sheriff Scott Jones, and our current Sheriff Jim Cooper.

2022 Sac Bee article interviewing former Sheriff Scott Jones as he came to the end of his tenure; Jones stated:

Everybody’s heavyweight in the jail. Everybody else gets out. There’s no room. Everybody in there is a bad person, or at least accused of very bad things. Compounding that is, you have an exponential increase in the amount of psychiatric and or medical problems

2023 Sac Bee article capturing an interview with Sheriff Jim Cooper around drugs being smuggled into the Sac Main Jail; Cooper stated:

...I’m now Sacramento County Sheriff, inheriting a nearly 35-year-old building that houses state prison inmates and some of the most prolific and sophisticated criminals these walls have ever held, all while under a new Federal Consent Decree…The Main Jail has been overwhelmed by a far more sophisticated and violent inmate population as well as inmates with acute medical needs…

These statements are intentionally deceitful and vague, relying on sensationalism and anecdotal evidence in an attempt to solidify the community’s perception that jails, and other carceral systems, are necessary to protect the community from these “dangerous” and “violent” people. Reducing this conversation to a “them v us” framing is a convenient way for the SSO to avoid responsibility and accountability for their actions.

Dehumanizing people held inside the jails is a tactic used by LE to justify their continued existence and necessity. Perhaps even more insidiously, this messaging provides cover for any argument against divestment, or the implementation of policies that might affirm the humanity of folks interacting with the carceral system. This messaging does nothing to move us away from our current carceral system, where the SSO is doing things like acting as a major mental health care provider, for example.

According to data from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), people with a mental health diagnosis who receive mental health services during incarceration comprise 63% (2,147) of the population detained in its jails, making the jail one of the largest behavioral health providers in the county – a service it is not designed to provide

- from a 2022 set of recommendations from the Sac County Mental Health Board to the Board of Supervisors urging the County to adopt a “Care First Jails Last” resolution and implement the accompanying system supports and programs

Here are some quick facts that more accurately describe the populations being held in Sacramento jails (this is not a comprehensive list).

  • Over 82% of the jail population is pre-trial, meaning they have only been accused of a crime

  • Nearly 32% of the individuals booked into jail for a new crime are arrested for drug- or alcohol-related crimes

  • 30% of bookings are related to statutory violations of drug or alcohol laws

  • 55% of people booked are released within 3 days

  • 70% of the jail population is released within 10 days

- These percentages are pulled from Decarcerate Sacramento’s jail expansion opposition toolkit for an action that took place on 10/17/23.

These numbers paint a very different picture than what is being continually said by LE, that everyone in the jail is a violent, dangerous, felon.

3. Releasing people from jail will increase violent crime.

Crime, including violent crime, has been on a downward trajectory in California for decades.

Graph from Public Policy Institute of California 2023 Fact Sheet

During the last several years we have also seen jail and prison populations across California decrease. Notice that there was no significant spike in crime rates as jail and prison populations decreased.

Graph pulled from a 2020 Sac Bee article about jail pop reduction during COVID pandemic

During the height of the COVID pandemic, hundreds of people were released from the Sac County jails, and we saw no significant spike in violent crime. This 2023 Sac Bee article (looking at crime rates up to 2022) is an example of misleading reporting around violent crime statistics that are meant to incite panic within our community about our perceived risk for experiencing harm.

Decarcerate Sacramento unpacked the article (pictured left) and explained the ways in which data was misrepresented, and therefore (whether intentionally or unintentionally) encouraged fear mongering around public safety. It’s always important to take into consideration the way data regarding “crime” is presented, what context is given, and who is doing the reporting.

4. Defunding the police hasn’t worked .

Defunding the police hasn't been attempted!

As of 2023, the SSO’s budget has increased by $105 million (county budget docs for FY 2023/24 & FY 2020/21) over the last four years.

As of 2023, Sacramento PD’s budget has increased by over $55 million over the last four years.

In 2022, TV stations owned by ABC looked into the policing budgets of 109 cities counties, and found that:

  • 83% of the investigated agencies were spending at least 2% more on policing in 2022 than in 2019

  • Only 8 agencies had reduced funding for the police by more than 2%; 91 agencies had increased LE funding by at least 2%

  • In 49 cities or counties, police funding had increased by more than 10%

Check out this powerful quote from the same ABC article:

Overwhelmingly, cities, counties, police departments across the country are not being defunded in any way... In fact, many of them have increased their budgets. Part of the reason why the 'defund the police' narrative has stayed around is because police officers say it and elected officials say it

- Dr. Rashawn Ray, sociologist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

As we can see, not only is law enforcement NOT being defunded in Sacramento city and county (funding is increasing), LE agencies are not being defunded in other cities either. Misinformation, lies, and fear mongering from law enforcement officials, as well as elected and unelected government officials, are responsible for the myth that “defunding” the police is something that’s happening, and that this “defunding” has increased crime. Don’t fall for it folks.

5. Police keep us safe.

We know police exist as a mechanism for social control, to enforce and bolster our capitalist system, and to protect the interests of the ruling class.

We know that there is no compelling evidence to support the idea that increasing funding for the police results in meaningful reductions in crime.

The following quote is pulled from a 2020 analysis by Philip Bump, published in the Washington Post:

A review of spending on state and local police over the past 60 years, though, shows no correlation nationally between spending and crime rates

We know that investment in community programming and social safety nets prevents crime and increases community safety.

These lies are helpful to keep in mind when digesting and absorbing misinformation around LE institutions, policy decision-making, and particularly this local jail expansion. The claims of our Sheriff, and other officials within our local government, regarding the necessity of this expansion are simply not true. There is abundant data supporting what our community already knows, which is that alternatives to LE and carceral systems are what we need to grow a healthy community where we can all thrive.

We keep us safe.


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