Merry Christmas, California, the crime rate is rising! These not-so-glad tidings come to you courtesy of Redding Chief of Police Robert Paoletti, who along with his cohorts across the state has access to crime statistics unavailable to us mere civilians.
According to the numbers the chiefs are looking at, both property crime and violent crime in California rose more than 10 percent in 2015. Paoletti has no problem attributing some of the increase to Prop 47, the statewide initiative passed by voters in 2014 that reduced charges for nonviolent, “non-serious” crimes such as possession of heroin and methamphetamine from felonies to misdemeanors.
To say Paoletti is concerned about the way Prop 47 is playing out in Redding would be a dramatic understatement. Although property crime has stabilized statistically, he believes it’s under-reported because police response times are up and victims simply don’t report crime, because they believe police aren’t going to come.
Perhaps more ominously, violent crime is on the rise, as the drug-addicted criminal element that stalks Redding’s streets preys upon weaker members of the transient homeless community.
Last week, I sat down with Paoletti in his office to discuss Shasta County’s ongoing crime wave and its relationship to AB 109 prison realignment, as well as sentencing reform measures such as Prop 47 and the recently passed Prop 57. An 18-year veteran of the Stockton Police Department, Paoletti assumed command of RPD in 2011, just as AB 109 went into effect.
Prison realignment was the state’s response to a federal court ruling ordering the reduction of unconstitutionally overcrowded state prison system.
To reduce the prison population, the state released tens of thousands of supposedly lower risk, nonviolent offenders and transferred responsibility for incarcerating and supervising higher risk nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to the state’s 58 county jails. Furthermore, offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes are now sentenced to county jail instead of prison.
Unfortunately, many of the state’s county jails were already unconstitutionally overcrowded when AB 109 took effect, including Shasta County’s. Moreover, while the state prison population has been reduced, saving billions of dollars from the state budget in the process, those savings have only been partially transferred to the counties, which are now charged with rehabilitating convicted offenders in addition to incarcerating them.
For Shasta County and other counties with limited jail capacity, the result has been a sustained spike in the property crime rate. While some offenders have indeed been rehabilitated, too many are running wild in the streets, because they know there’s no room in the jail to hold them. Prop 47 and Prop 57 have further complicated matters by taking away the stick used to force drug addicts into recovery: the threat of a jail sentence.
Combine all that with an opium/heroin epidemic that makes Redding look more like an Appalachian hillbilly hellhole than a pleasant mid-sized retirement community in California, and you can begin to understand why Paoletti has spent much of his tenure warning citizens to lock their doors and shutter their windows because they’re not living in the Redding they used to know.
I began our conversation by asking about the increased public vigilance that’s become necessary in the wake of prison realignment and sentencing reform.
What followed was 90 minutes of nonstop elaboration about what’s working with prison realignment in Shasta County, and what’s not, from the perspective of the police department.
His comments are presented here edited for length and clarity. I’ve kept my own involvement confined to providing the occasional transition in his thought process. He’s got a lot on mind, but if you’re wondering what’s going through the heads of police chiefs across California these days, this is a great place to start.
“I think time will tell whether or not AB 109 was good law or bad law,” he began. “Conceptually, can local communities deal with lower level offenders better than the mass prison system of the state of California? Perhaps. The challenge is, with AB 109 specifically, they shifted it too fast. They didn’t say, hey, in five years, these are going to become county responsibilities instead of state responsibilities. They passed it and said, hey, in November, they’re yours.”
Which happened to be the very month he took office.
“They also didn’t transition all of the funds from the state of California to the counties to deal with all of those programs,” he continued, noting that some progress has been made. “Over time, over the last five years, I’ve seen Shasta County develop programs like the Day Reporting Center, the Community Corrections Center and things that are allowing us to have more success on the right side of court.”
Picture an offender’s journey through the justice system as a basketball court, with the left side being the arrest by police, mid-court being an appearance before a judge, and the right side the slam dunk of rehabilitation. If only it was that easy.
“The problem is that AB 109 has shifted so much responsibility to the jail, there’s no ramification for not showing up to court,” he said. “Problem No. 1 that AB 109 created was the full jail and the result of that is we have a failure to appear problem in Shasta County courts, which means we can’t get people to the rehabilitation programs we’ve put into place. That is a huge problem right now and that’s what we were trying to solve by adding additional bed space with the action plan we put together.”
It’s not that Paoletti doesn’t believe in the mission. He’s just frustrated he doesn’t have all the tools to complete it.
“I think the criminal justice system has an opportunity, a responsibility to give people an opportunity to change. If they don’t want to take that opportunity, that’s the person you hold in jail, until they make that decision. We can arrest them all we want; we can’t make that decision to change for them. That’s what the jail beds should be used for. The problem is we don’t have enough of jail beds to convince these people to make that decision, and we are emboldening the criminal element, because there is no ramification for doing wrong anymore.”
Even though violent and property crime rates have risen since AB 109 went into effect in 2011, Paoletti oversees a department that hasn’t fully recovered from the staffing cuts necessitated by the 2007-’08 economic recession. Nevertheless, the crime rate appeared to be leveling off before the passage of AB 47 in 2014.
“With Prop 47 making drugs misdemeanors, I expected to see an increase in property crime because drug users, drug addicts, need to steal to support their habits,” Paoletti explained. “We didn’t have a huge increase in property crime last year statistically. Anecdotally, from talking to citizens, we’ve had an increase in property crime, but they’re not making the reports.
“What we’ve seen is a big spike in that I was hoping would not happen is on the violent crime side. That violent crime spike we’re seeing, both in aggravated assaults and homicides, are people in high-risk lifestyles, that are out there in that drug culture. The homeless, drug-addicted culture where they’re victimizing each other. We’ve had four robberies in three days. That may be no big deal for cities down south, but that’s unheard of for Redding.
“Typically in the past what has driven Redding’s violent crime rate is aggravated assault. What has driven that aggravated assault rate is domestic violence. So you were safe on the street but people were in danger in their homes.
“Now, we’re starting to see more violence in the streets. Our last two homicides were people that lived in high-risk lifestyles, either the drug lifestyle or homelessness, which often coincide. We’re starting to see more aggravated assaults, more homeless-on-homeless crimes, drug-addict on drug-addict crimes, where they’re actually stealing and beating each other up, taking each other’s stuff. The type of violent crime is shifting and that has me very concerned.”
Who You Calling A Recidivist?
Detailed crime statistics prepared by the state attorney general’s office have a two-year time lag, so Paoletti relies on more timely data collected locally by the department as well as statewide by the California Police Chiefs Association.
“CalChiefs gather crime stats that departments send in and they release it faster,” he said. “What CalChiefs is reporting [for 2015] is the state of California is seeing about a 10 percent increase in violent crime; property crime is up about 11 percent. Prop 47 has had a very negative effect on crime rate throughout the state.”
He disagrees with the method the state uses to compute recidivism, the rate at which criminals reoffend and wind up back behind bars. It’s a matter of some academic debate. In order to be a recidivist in the eyes of the state, the re-offender must be convicted of the new crime with which they have been charged. Paoletti believes it should be based on the re-arrest alone.
“The state likes to say the success of AB 109 should be based on recidivism,” he said. “I think it should be based on crime rate, because I serve victims. Crime rate measures victimization. The state, in order in my opinion to make AB 109 appear more successful, changed the definition of recidivism. Instead of recidivism being re-arrest, now it requires a conviction.
“Well, if the people never show up to court—we have people in Shasta County Superior Court with 60, 70 pending cases but they never show up to court to get convicted—you don’t have a recidivist because their definition says it requires a conviction.”
The graph of 2015 Redding repeat offenders shown above was put together by RPD statistician Mike Murphy and illustrates in dramatic fashion what Paoletti is talking about.
The numbers may not make sense at first, because it seems impossible, for example, that the 91 people arrested on the far right of the chart had already been arrested 10 previous times, for a total of 1191 arrests between them. The arc drawn over all the offenders arrested with five or more previous arrests covers 404 offenders who accounted for 37 percent of Redding’s total arrests.
“That shows that we have this huge problem with lack of jail bed space because we’re arresting the same people over and over and over again and they never show up to court,” Paoletti said. “When we look at the crimes that accounts for, that’s drug arrests, property crimes and warrant arrests because they didn’t show up to court. Those are the three big ones, along with addiction, drugs and alcohol addiction issues.”
The numbers are depressing, but they also offer a clue on which way to proceed. Paoletti works closely with the probation department, and plans to more closely identify these 404 repeat offenders to determine if they’re already in the probation department’s supervised population. If they are, then maybe he can force them to get the help they need.
“If one of those 404 people based on that assessment is in the low-risk group, maybe they need to bump them up to more intense supervision with a GPS bracelet where we can keep better track of them and give them more deterrence,” he said. “Probation does the assessment, but once again, we’ve got to get them through the court process, to the right side of the court, to get them to probation, to influence any of the criminal justice programs that we have.”
One of the frustrating things for local officials involved with prison realignment, from the police department, to the sheriff’s office to the probation department to health and human services, is that the evidence-based rehabilitation programs that have been established in Shasta County since prison realignment went into effect are working—even if they suffer from capacity issues as well.
“If you look at the Day Reporting Center, they’ve had 69 graduates and their recidivism rate, their re-arrest rate, true recidivism, not re-conviction, is 14.7 percent,” Paotelli said. “That’s the worst 100 Shasta County offenders that are in that program at any one time. What I want to is get more people into what are our successful rehabilitation programs.”
His enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the reality on the ground.
“Still, if we can’t get them to court, we can’t get them to the programs,” he repeated, and continued to repeat throughout the interview. “That’s what AB 109 has done with jail compaction. It limits our ability to get people through the court process.”
Separating The Sheep From The Goats
Separating transient street criminals from the genuine homeless community is hampered by RPD’s decades-old computer system, which will soon benefit from a $2.5 to $2.7 million countywide computer system upgrade. Murphy, who is a part-time employee, explained that in order to create the reoffender graph, he used a 26-step process to extract the raw data and render it in an Excel spreadsheet—a task that can be accomplished in a few clicks with contemporary crime management systems.
In order to determine the extent of the criminal transient population, Murphy compiled data from arrest records on offenders who gave their address as transient, homeless, Good News Rescue Mission or general delivery. He discovered that there appears to be an increase in the number of transients detained that correlates with the crime rate increase since prison realignment went into effect in 2011.
While such figures may appear to bolster the claim by some locals that outsider criminal transients have descended upon Shasta County because the benefits are plentiful and the crime is easy, Paoletti, informed by his own experience and reports from officers in the field, paints a far more nuanced picture.
Some people come to Shasta County because it’s in California, and some people still see the Golden State as a land of opportunity. Others hail from neighboring Tehama, Lassen, Modoc, Trinity and Siskiyou counties, which don’t have Shasta County’s resources. It’s a mixed bag.
“The other day I left lunch and I saw one of my officers with three transients stopped, so I stopped to make sure she was safe,” he recounted. “And I talked to those transients, and I think they were from Michigan, Iowa—they were all from the Midwest. Even if you talk to the Good News Rescue Mission, they will tell you that homeless people come to California. They come to California because of the weather. I’m sorry, it’s tough to be homeless in Michigan, or Wyoming, where it’s minus 20.
“I went to a conference in San Diego, and San Diego’s downtown business association did a presentation and they count the homeless once a month. There’s 1400 homeless counted in the downtown San Diego business district, and 73 percent of them are not from California. So that’s very similar to the statistics that we came to [with Shasta County’s last homeless survey].
“Now whether this is a traveling band of not-settling-down young people, or whether they’re coming to California because California has the best services and climate, either way, HUD reports that one-third of the nation’s homeless population lives in the state of California, and they are coming to California.
“Whether they wind up in Redding, Sacramento or San Diego, you look at county seats across the state, the county seats are the ones struggling with the homeless population because that’s where the resources for the homeless are, so that’s where they naturally gravitate.
“During the marijuana grow season, I think our homeless population looks larger than it actually is, because you get the trimmers that come in for the pot grows that live like they’re homeless because they’re living in tents. They draw services from the charities but they’re actually here to work in the pot industry.”
He agreed with me that there appears to be a decrease in the number of trimmers traveling here since Shasta County banned outdoor medical marijuana cultivation in 2014. For Paoletti, the number of homeless who admit they’re struggling with addiction to hard drugs and/or mental illness is far more concerning than marijuana use.
“When we interviewed the homeless population, just over 50 percent self-admitted—to a police officer—that they were homeless because of drug addiction and mental illness. Shasta County is grossly short on mental health capacity and grossly short on drug treatment capacity.
“I’ve taken some criticism lately because I’m supporting a methadone clinic, or a medical assisted treatment facility, coming to Redding to deal with the heroin problem. Fifteen years ago, I would have said hell no, but things have changed to the point where drugs are a misdemeanor. We have to find other solutions for these problems because we just simply can’t arrest our way out these problems anymore.
“I understand the intent of Prop 47 to decriminalize an illness or an addiction, the problem is we took away a judge’s ability to order them to rehabilitation. What I think Prop 47 should have done is that if you get arrested for drugs, it’s a felony. If you complete a program and you stay clean for six months? Then that can be reduced to a misdemeanor. You just don’t reduce it to a misdemeanor to start with.”
Law enforcement officials in general have been critical of the state’s attempt to reclassify criminals as violent and nonviolent, particularly criminals who may have a violent past, but thanks to prison realignment and sentencing reform, no longer have it held against them.
“That’s the problem with AB 109, Prop 49 [and recently passed] Prop 57, it’s all based on their last incarceration offense,” Paoletti said. “It is not based on their total life of criminality. You could have a homicide suspect that served his time, got out and his current commitment offense is a burglary, they’re going to call him nonviolent when he’s not a nonviolent criminal.”
He’s not opposed to releasing criminals that are lower risk to the public—as long as someone he trusts is doing the risk assessment.
“If we do it, but not if the Department of Corrections does it. Now these early releases because of Prop 57 are all going to be in the hands of a panel by the California Department of Corrections, and they can release somebody with early credits based on population management—not on rehabilitation. Their focus right now is not on rehabilitation. Their focus is on population management, because of the lawsuits.”
Paoletti isn’t saying the entire homeless population is criminally malevolent. However, he does believe that many of transients seen loitering, aggressively panhandling and occasionally smash-and-grabbing from automobiles on Redding’s streets today are homeless either by choice or because they lack the mental capacity to comprehend their circumstance.
“Not every homeless person is committing a crime,” he said. “Not every one of our criminals is homeless. Some [non-criminal] homeless make people feel unsafe, because maybe they’re dirty or they smell or maybe they have a mental health problem. We need to vet out the criminals verses those that are less fortunate.
“Good News Rescue Mission does a good job, and they’re never full. There’s never an excuse for someone in Redding to be living on the street, other than the fact that they don’t want to deal with the rules that are in effect at Good News Rescue Mission.
“You come down to this resistive population that we’ve talked a lot about. We’ve called them will, won’t and can’t. Will take help, won’t take help, can’t take help because they don’t need it because of their mental illness. That resistive population is what you see on the street and that is your criminal element because those that are homeless that don’t choose to be go to these organizations to get help, so they’re not homeless.”
The County Has A Plan, It Just Needs The $$$
AB 109 legislation mandated that each county establish a Community Corrections Partnership comprised of all the public agencies responsible for administering and executing the county’s prison realignment plan. Paoletti sits on the CCP’s executive board, which meets roughly every month to discuss progress on the plan. Despite Paoletti’s concern with the ongoing crime wave, he’s proud of his work on the committee and the CCP’s accomplishments so far.
“The state law proscribes who’s going to be on that executive committee,” he said. “It’s the probation chief, the DA, the public defender, the sheriff, health and human services and a police chief, which there’s only two police chiefs in Shasta County, me and Anderson, and I got here first so I’m on the board.
“If you look at what has been put in place by [AB 109] funding, it opened the third floor of the jail that was closed because of budget. We created the Day Reporting Center and the Community Corrections Center. We have a housing component in the Community Corrections Center, so those homeless criminals can get housing. We have a jobs program. We have the Step-Up program with Shasta College, so they can get college units and earn jail credits for going to school. I think we’ve put a lot of good stuff in place. Where we’re struggling is getting people to the good things we’ve put in place.”
But—and you knew there was going to be a but—AB 109 funding is getting harder to come by, in part because conservative Shasta County juries have a long-standing tradition of sending criminals, violent and nonviolent, to prison.
“The second factor we’re struggling with right now is the state of California will punish you and decrease your allocation from the state if you still send too many people to prison,” Paoletti said. “Shasta County is still sending a lot of people to prison. We’re one of the few counties in the state that has double digit re-incarceration rates and we’re facing getting our CCP funding cut because of that.
“What we need to do, and I think we need to have some serious conversations about, is if we’re going to send someone back to prison, let’s send the right person back to prison. Let’s send the high-risk to reoffend back to prison, not the low-risk to reoffend.”
And right now in Shasta County, the criminals who are the most likely to reoffend enjoy a great deal of overlap with the drug-addicted transient community. The nationwide rural opiate/heroin epidemic appears to have gained a serious foothold in Redding. Paoletti has taken to pointing out in town hall meetings that our per capita opiate prescription level is akin to Kentucky’s.
“We haven’t found as much pills as we’ve found heroin,” he said. “Most of the pills we get are stolen, because people aren’t securing them in their homes. One of the major cases where we find them is with kids stealing from their grandparents. But there’s a lot of opium painkillers that are going into this community.”
He’s hopeful that the local pain management doctors who were shut down by the state of California two years ago may lower the amount of prescription opiates in the community. But it’s the return of heroin that has him really worried.
“I said five years ago on the radio when I got here, heroin’s coming. Now it’s here. The local drug task force doesn’t have the resources to catch them all. Mexico is now the second largest producer of heroin in the world behind Afghanistan and we are addicted to opioids.”
RPD’s proactive neighborhood police unit has successfully interdicted heroin sales at the Redding Inn, and is currently targeting the drug trade at other residential hotels, which also happen to harbor some of Redding’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens.
“Who lives in those hotels?” Poaletti asked rhetorically. “Our lowest income residents. If they’re not a drug user, they’re just poor, and they’re living in that drug-infested environment with all of these addicts. It lowers their quality of life as well as the business community that surrounds these hotels.”
Marijuana Verses Heroin Verses Methamphetamine
I asked Paoletti if separating marijuana use from heroin and methamphetamine abuse was difficult from a policing perspective, since there is some overlap among users, and cannabis critics continue to maintain marijuana is a gateway drug. Poaletti reiterated that marijuana is not among his primary concerns.
“It’s easy to separate,” he almost scoffed. “Heroin is heroin and meth is meth. The people act differently. I’ve been a cop for 24 years and I don’t think I’ve ever fought someone who was high on marijuana. I’ve fought a lot of drunks, but not anyone that I know of who was high on marijuana.
“Methamphetamine addicts are extremely, extremely paranoid, extremely, extremely strong, they don’t feel pain and they don’t get tired. That’s a hell of a person to have a fight with.
“Heroin addicts are more zombie-ish, they’re not heavy fighters unless they’re mixing heroin and methamphetamine together, which is even more dangerous because it increases the pain tolerance. Heroin addicts typically are desperate. Right now when we take away their drugs, they get a ticket. They’re still panicked because they know they got to go find more drugs or they’re going to get sick. Withdrawals from heroin are extremely, extremely painful.
“We’re dealing with three populations out there. What I worry about with marijuana as opposed to the other two is, I worry about driver safety. So don’t smoke and drive, it’s as bad if not worse than drinking and driving.
“I”m also worried that [because of Prop 64] people are going to get ticked off at the police department, because their neighbor is going to smoke on the couch, which is legal, the smell is going to hit their living room, and they’re going to call the police and complain, and the officers are going to go, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s legal,’ and then they’re going to yell at us because we’re not doing anything about it. Voters approved legalizing marijuana, you can smoke it on your couch.”
Prison realignment, sentencing reform and drug decriminalization are part of a much broader civil rights movement that aims to redress racial disparities caused by the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated for otherwise nonviolent offenses. I asked Paoletti where he stood on the wholesale legalization of all drugs, a measure which some drug wasr critics have touted as a solution to the problem.
“I see a nationwide movement, maybe, to legalize marijuana,” he said. “I don’t hear a lot of cry to legalize meth and heroin, nationwide. The idea behind decriminalizing these drugs is to treat it like an illness and not like a criminal behavior and I think there’s some validity to that, a little bit. Except for the fact that a lot of these people will only go to rehabilitation if ordered by a judge and we’ve removed that option, we’ve removed that order from the judge.”
The Long And Winding Road With No Steering Wheel
Paoletti has seen the results when the system works, when an offender his officers have arrested goes before a judge and is sentenced to jail time and then released to the probation department, where he or she must report to the Day Reporting Center daily, and begin the long road back to becoming a productive member of society.
“I went to a Day Reporting Center graduation recently, I think there was nine people,” he recalled. “Almost every single one of them said ‘I came to this program kicking and screaming and now I’m clean, I’m reunited with my family, I have my kids and I have a job.’”
“Well, focus on that ‘kicking and screaming’ part,” he emphasized. “If there’s no jail held over their head and no other option, and there’s no motivation for them to change, they’re going to continue to do drugs until the drugs kill them. I don’t think that’s the humane way society should look at it. We should do what we can to get them clean, into a job and reunited with their families, to give them an opportunity to have a normal successful life.”
For those who do get the proverbial second chance, it’s a long row to hoe.
“When you talk about rehabilitation, I don’t care if it’s from criminality or homelessness, you have to look at that roadway or pathway they have to go down,” he said. “It starts, I think, with a roof, because a homeless criminal is always going to commit crime.
“Then you have to look at, why do they commit crime? In criminology classes it’s called the criminogenic need. What’s the base causal thing, whether it’s drug addiction, mental health, bad upbringing. I had a Leave It To Beaver childhood, most of these offenders did not. You’ve gotta treat whatever it is, whether that’s with moral cognitive therapy or drug treatment or whether it’s treatment for schizophrenia, whatever the case may be. Then you have to give them an education that leads to a vocation that leads to a job.
“Now I just described a really long road that they have to walk and they have to make that choice to walk it. Well, if they start to veer off that road, what’s our steering wheel to get them back to that road? Jail. Well guess what? We’re driving down the road without a steering wheel right now because our jails are full.”
And we’re right back where we started. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole prison realignment experiment. It all sounds very nice in theory. What if it was actually fully funded, and the CCP actually got everything on its wish list? Could the citizens of Redding go back to not locking their doors at night?
“I think we can start heading that direction,” Paoletti said. “The fact of the matter is, Redding grew itself into a midsize California city and is dealing with midsize California city issues. I think Redding is always going to be challenged, because it’s not [just] a county seat, it’s a hub city. It is the hub city of the north state. It’s the only city in the north state, other than Chico, that has the type of resources that we have here.”
It turned out I wasn’t the first person to ask Paoletti what would happen if RPD and Shasta County got full financial support for prison realignment and sentencing reform.
“I talked to a group the other day and they said, ‘Chief let’s say we could give you your dream of 142 cops and 23 community service officers. What do you think that would do for crime?’”
“I said initially I think that it would go up because we’d be capturing the crime that we’re missing now when the people figured out our customer service level was better. If you look at the plan that we put forward, it was personnel plus bed space plus mental health capacity. If the Aegis [methadone] Treatment Center comes into Redding and 400 people because of their medically assisted drug treatment aren’t committing crime anymore, I”m happy with that.
“Right now I’m very encouraged by the county opening the mental health outpatient center, I think that’s going to be a great resource for our officers, so that when people aren’t 5150, when they’re just not really right, we can say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to mental health and get some help?’ I’m OK with my guys becoming a taxi to take them there. It’s a resource, a tool in the toolbox. I still think we need a crisis stabilization unit. I still think we need a sobering center for people whose only crime is addiction.
“The problem is, most sobering centers are nonprofits. The one I was used to in Stockton isn’t there anymore because it lost its funding and it lost its location. But when somebody’s only crime is being under-the-influence, if we could take them there so that when they’re sober, we can engage them with drug treatment programs, that’s a huge plus for us.
“But there has to be an immediate link to a bed we can take them to,” he maintained. “One of the conversations I had with Aegis Treatment Centers when they were talking about coming down here is MediCal Drug funds it, for now, at least. I wanted to know that if one of my officers is talking to a heroin addict on the street, and the person says, ‘I”m tired of this, I want to change,’ and my officer throws him in the car and brings him to [Aegis], are you going to hand him three packets of paper and say come back in three weeks when MediCal Drug has gone through? Or are you going to start treating them that day and let the paperwork and money catch up. They assured me they will start treating them that day and let the paperwork catch up.
“Because when that person makes the decision to change … we need to be able to walk them to a van and take them immediately to a drug treatment center. Otherwise we’ve lost them.”
Naturally, some local folks aren’t exactly keen about a methadone clinic coming to town.
“There’s always a not-in-my-backyard,” Paoletti said. “I had a discussion with somebody, and they said we don’t want this methadone clinic—which I prefer to refer to as medically assisted treatment, because ‘methadone clinic’ has a negative connotation. They say if we do this, we’re going to attract everybody here to Redding.
“Well, my argument is they’re already here. Let’s treat them. We’ve got 70 people driving from Redding to [the Aegis clinic in] Chico everyday so they can be clean. … Seventy people that we know of. They’ve had up to 220 [Shasta County] clients at that Chico clinic, but they couldn’t make the drive. I think in the first couple of months [an Aegis clinic may be operating in Redding by February], they’re probably going to have up to 250 clients, and I think that’s aiming low. I think there’s going to be more.
“But that same person [who was against the methadone clinic] then says, hey look, now that pot’s legal, instead of letting Shasta Lake get all the money, we should open recreational marijuana sales things in Redding.
“So I said aren’t you afraid you’re going to bring all the potheads to Redding? And he said, they’re already here. And I said well isn’t that the same argument I said about the heroin clinic? And he’s like that’s different. And I said it’s not different. It’s not different.
“Let’s bring resources in. There’s absolutely zero cost in bringing in a medically assisted treatment center for heroin and opiate addiction. So why would we fight that coming when the arrest rate for their 400 clients in Chico is 6 percent? When 95 percent of their clients are housed? And they only generate 26 calls per service from the police department, and most of those are because the client comes in and is talking to the drug counselor and they might be suicidal that day.
“You’ll be surprised how many people have to walk into that clinic every day to get help to addiction to opium who are probably wearing a suit. Because not all of our opium addicts or heroin addicts are on the street. A lot of them are functional opium addicts who are addicted to pain killers. More people die nationwide from opiate painkillers than heroin.”
Stockton Verses Redding
There’s a certain segment of Redding that’s opposed to anyone who’s not from Redding and who therefore oppose Paoletti since he was born and raised in Lodi and spent 18 years on the Stockton PD before becoming chief here. So I asked Paoletti to describe the difference between policing a larger urban city like Stockton and a rural mid-sized city like Redding.
“When I was in Stockton when I grew up, we had 421 cops in Stockton, so we were able to be very proactive,” he said. “When I came to Redding we had 98 cops and we were very reactive. Our patrol officers respond to calls for service and they’re reactive to that. Their ability to be proactive, to find and solve problems in the community policing philosophy, is very limited because they’re tied to the radio and the next emergency call that’s coming in.
“Stockton is known for its violence, but the violence is between the gangs. It’s much less pointed at the cops. In Redding, especially with the methamphetamine community, that violence is pointed at the cops.
“These are rough fights, and we’ve been fortunate to win those fights. The last thing I ever want to do is give a speech at a funeral. We train our guys monthly in defensive tactics. We train them monthly at the range, so if they have to use a weapon, they’re accurate and can take care of what they need to. The biggest difference I see from Stockton to here is that instead of the violence being between the gangs, the violence is much more pointed at the cops.”
So, Shasta County doesn’t have a problem with criminal gangs?
“No, they’re not a big problem right now, but we have to be careful. The biggest runners of heroin in California are Sureños gang members, wherever you have heroin, you’re going to have Sureños.
“We are going to keep a close eye on our gang members here, but recent legislation is restricting the CalGang database and the hub that we operate off of. We may lose access to our CalGang database and I think that’s one of those things, when you talk about restrictions that are being put on law enforcement. If you’re a gang member and we’re tracking your criminality and [the state] is going to take away the system that we do that with, you’re hampering law enforcement again.
In any discussion of AB 109, the finger always points back toward the state, which got us in this mess in the first place.
“Just look at Mike (Murphy, the part-time RPD statistician). Just due to state legislation, he’s got six new reports a month he’s got to do. So they’re handing down, based on political reactiveness to what’s going on back east in Detroit, Chicago and all those other places, now they’re saying we need use of force reports, we need profiling reports, we need this, we need that.
“They’re tacking on more and more administrative work for the police department but they’re not sending any funds down to help us keep up with that administration. So Mike, being a part time employee, has six more reports he has to do every month now, but no more hours to get it done.
“Then I get letters from the Attorney General’s office constantly that I throw on Mike’s desk that say you’re late with this report. Well, no kidding we’re late. You give us more reports, I got a 1988 computer system, you know, it really is, it gets very frustrating, the stuff that gets handed down from Sacramento.”
I asked him if he AB 109 amounts to an unfunded mandate.
“Well, they are giving funds to the county, but it’s about a third of what they were spending. So they expect the counties to do it, but they don’t want to pass on the resources that were making it happen.
“They’re dinging us for sending too many people back to prison. And, it’s not just prison. That re-incarceration rate counts county jail. So even if we don’t send them back to prison and the judge gives them jail time, that counts to that re-incarceration rate that they want to punish us for. So basically what the Board of State and Community Corrections [the agency that disperses AB 109 funding to the counties] is doing with that money, is they’re punishing me for doing my job, and that job is to investigate crime, arrest criminals and hold them accountable. They want to punish us for doing our job.”
It’s a statewide problem that when combined with the controversy surrounding highly publicized police shootings of unarmed African Americans across the United States the past several years, makes recruiting new police officers difficult.
“Everybody’s having these problems,” Paoletti said, referring to his fellow chiefs across the state. “Right now, one of the biggest challenges in law enforcement is recruiting people who want to be cops. [Because of] the national negative rhetoric against police officers, the death rate of police officers killed by gunfire is up by more than 60 percent this year and the millennial generation is not looking at law enforcement as the occupation they want to go into.”
He saw a chart the other day indicating most people on probation are in the 18 to 25 age bracket. The average cop is in currently his or her mid-40s, and replacements are in short supply.
“It’s a confrontational, tough job. They’re in their late 40s, but the criminals are always 18 to 25. That’s tough when you’re in your mid 40s, and more prone to injury than guys that are 18 to 25 hyped up on methamphetamine. The average football player retires at the age of 35. Well, they only play 16 weeks a year and they only get hit hard on Sundays. My guys get hit hard every day.”
To add insult to injury, the state recently raised the retirement age for police from 50 to 57.
Tips To Stay Safe This Holiday Season
Because it’s the holiday season and people generally feel more generous toward the down-and-out, I asked Paotelli if it was OK to give money to that person spare-changing on the sidewalk outside the department store. He advised against it.
“If you’re going to give, give to the charities that help them,” he said. “Give to the Good News Rescue Mission. Give to Northern Valley Catholic Social Services. The Living Hope. When you hand them money on the street, chances are it’s going to support the drug trade and it’s going to get them their next fix. The charities are not going to go buy them heroin. Donate to them, don’t hand people money on the street.
“As far as personal safety, I know that Christmas tree looks good in the front window with all those packages but it looks good to that thief too. So unless you’ve got a doberman sleeping under that tree, I would suggest keeping the blinds closed or maybe moving it to a different room in the back of the house.”
“Plan your shopping trips,” he continued. “It amazes me that I did that whole town hall meeting on crime stats and opium, and the one thing a blogger picked up on was I was told the guys ‘to be the mule.’ The fact of the matter is, they’re going to be watching where people congregate for victims, and where we congregate during the holiday season is in the shopping centers.
“The criminal element is going to be there. They’re going to watch you carrying packages to your car and go into another store and then they steal the packages while you’re in there. Your trunk is not that safe either. So plan your shopping trips so you can carry the number of packages you can, and that’s why I said guys, you’ve got to go shopping with your spouses, you got to be the mule.”
If you’re single, bring along a friend. And, I might add, if you don’t have a friend, who are you Christmas shopping for?
“The hard part is, when I talk about crime prevention, some people say, you’re blaming us for the crime. I’m not. I’m telling you how to prevent it. You can ignore me if you want to but then don’t yell at me when you’re a victim. I’m telling you how not to be a victim of a crime. You can’t pack your car full of stuff, because theft from a motor vehicle is almost half our general larceny. It’s a completely and utterly preventable crime.”
And Then Things Got Personal
Several years ago, I was victimized by a convicted embezzler. Even though he pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $600,000, because he was considered a low-risk, nonviolent offender, he only spent one night in jail. Once released on probation, he kept right on embezzling, including burning me for several thousand dollars. He’s still out there doing it now. I asked Paoletti how common this was.
“What’s the deterrent?” he shrugged. “Same thing with the drugs and everything else. You’re not going to stay in jail, it’s full of the violent criminals. We just arrested a guy the other day for bank robbery and he got probation. For bank robbery! Because he didn’t show a gun, he imitated a gun.”
For the first time in the interview, Paoletti let his anger show.
“Look at what that guy did the other day [he was referring to a recent nonfatal officer-involved shooting]. He had an imitation gun, it looked just like a Sig Sauer P226, but we don’t get to inspect the gun before we shoot you when you point it at us. Look at the stress level he put on those officers. They had to shoot that guy. It’s not TV, we don’t high-five each other and go to the bar.”
Suicide-by-cop is very ugly and more common than most people realize, I agreed.
“We had three in one night!” he exclaimed. “We had three armed people asking the officers to kill them in one night, and the officers used restraint and didn’t kill a single one.
“The problem is the public only finds out about the ones we shoot. They don’t find about all the times the officers could have used lethal force. At last year’s [RPD] award ceremony, I gave awards to six different officers for incidents where they would have been justified for using lethal force, but they didn’t because of their good judgement. We don’t get credit for those.
“The ones that hit the paper are the ones where we have to shoot them. But I’m sorry, if you’re going to shoot up an apartment complex and come out and shoot at my officers, they’re going to take care of themselves and protect their citizenry.
“One of the reasons I love being a police chief and being in law enforcement altogether, and you can say the same thing about the military, is that it takes a very special person to run toward danger when others are running away, and put their lives on the line for people they’ve never even met and that’s what these guys do every day. To be able to hang around and be a part of that group of people means more than anything that I can even to express to you.”