Click here to watch the full video of RPD’s town hall meeting held in the McLaughlin Auditorium on Tues. Aug. 30. Video produced and provided by the Shasta County Arts Council.
At his last quarterly town hall meeting on crime, Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti faced a polite audience of about 40 people. On an uncomfortably warm evening Wednesday, all of McLaughlin Auditorium’s 598 seats were filled by 5:45 p.m. and the fire marshal had to turn hundreds more away before the meeting began at 6.
The mostly civil audience arrived in standing-room-only force with one overriding theme on its collective mind: a simmering mixture of frustration, anger and despair over crimes, the criminals who commit those crimes, the officers who catch them and the jail and prisons that try to lock them up.
Paoletti was well aware of the growing interest in Wednesday’s meeting and switched venues from the smaller City Council chambers to the larger Sequoia Middle School auditorium. He also reached out to the criminal justice community for help. He was joined by the Anderson police chief, the Shasta County sheriff, the chief deputy district attorney, the chief of probation, and a pair of administrators from both the California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“This is just the beginning … of when we take back Redding,” said Carl Bott, the evening’s emcee and a host on his own radio station, KCNR 1460 AM, which featured a live broadcast of the meeting.
Paoletti ditched his usual Powerpoint presentation on crime statistics and instead turned the meeting into a Q&A forum. Several in the audience stood in line for 30 minutes and longer to ask questions. The police chief and Sheriff Tom Bosenko fielded the lion’s share of questions.
People wanted to know what they could do individually and as a community to better protect themselves; what the city and county law enforcement agencies were doing to curb rising crime rates; and the impact of Public Safety Realignment legislation (AB 109) on the community.
Others inquired into budget cuts, volunteer opportunities, gang activity and the effects of Redding’s growing homeless and transient population.
Paoletti and Bosenko agreed that AB 109—state legislation enacted in 2011 to reduce California’s prison population by diverting certain non-violent offenders to county jails and shifting their post-release supervision to county probation officers instead of parole agents—has placed a large burden on their cash-strapped agencies.
The Shasta County Jail, with its 381-inmate capacity, is constantly filling with people who used to be sent off to High Desert State Prison in Susanville and other institutions, Bosenko said.
“I have 26 people doing 2 to 8 years of county time,” Bosenko said. “Jails are not designed for time like that.”
With murderers, rapists and robbers taking up much of the space, Bosenko said his staff is left with little choice but to release more people brought in on less violent charges—a practice that grates on his deputies as much as it does on the community members who turned out Wednesday to complain about Shasta County’s “catch-and-release” practices.
“We have 20 to 60 people booked a day, and on any given day we may have one to six beds available,” Bosenko said.
Bosenko said he was heartened by a recent hour-long conversation he had with Gov. Jerry Brown about the short-term need for more space for pre-trial detainees and the long-term need for additional capacity for sentenced inmates.
A tent city similar to the jail operated by controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not a viable alternative, Bosenko said in answer to one woman’s question. Bosenko said he was loathe to have taxpayers’ dollars awarded to inmates who successfully sue over unconstitutional incarceration practices.
Photos by Rob Simpson
Chronic offenders are well aware of the situation, Paoletti said, and they know there’s few to no repercussions for blowing off court dates, so the merry-go-round keeps spinning.
“We need help … and that help may not be coming,” Paoletti said.
With fewer officers available to cover a 60-square-mile city, Paoletti said it is increasingly up to residents to protect themselves. Keep cars, doors and windows locked, don’t store valuables in plain sight, add security lights and remove shrubs and other structures that serve as hiding places.
“I hate to say it, but when it comes to crime it’s a competition between you and your neighbor,” Paoletti said. “And keep your head up and not walking around with your head in a cell phone,” he added to hearty applause.
Paoletti singled out Redding businessman Ed Rullman and his efforts in forming the Redding Merchants Crime Watch group and Jason Schroeder’s “Stand Up, Redding!” organization as good examples of community members joining forces to make Redding safer.
“I wish Redding was like it was,” the chief added, but methamphetamine use continues to plague the community “and now heroin is coming on big.”
In response to the growing frustration with theft, vandalism and loitering issues, Paoletti announced a trial program that takes traffic officers off motorcycles and puts them on bicycle patrols in downtown and along Hilltop Drive “at least a couple days a week.”
The move comes at a cost—traffic officers will not be available to take accident reports, which results in more demands on patrol officers’ time—“but we’ve got to at least try something,” Paoletti said.
Wednesday’s meeting will be aired on Shasta County Arts Council’s Community Access TV station (Channel 181 for Charter customers). Visit www.shastaartscouncil.org for the schedule; due to the length of the meeting (3.5 hours), the broadcast is not expected to be available until next week. It also will be available at the online archives of radio station KCNR by visiting www.kcnr1460.com.
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.