San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon says state officials’ recent decision to reduce bail to zero for misdemeanor and many felony arrests in an effort to reduce jail crowding is threatening public safety in his jurisdiction.
The Judicial Council of California decided earlier this month to reduce bail to zero for misdemeanor arrests, as well as felony arrests considered to be “lower-level. The decision was among 11 measures taken by the council to help reduce jail populations and slow the spread of COVID-19.
But in a statement issued Thursday, McMahon said the policy is making his county more dangerous.
“Putting undue stress on our residents by releasing a record number of inmates into the community goes against our mission of providing law enforcement solutions that meet the needs of communities,” he said.
“The change to zero bail for arrestees dramatically compromises our communities’ sense of safety and well-being,” according to the sheriff.
He added that the policy does not only affect new arrests, but inmates already in custody, as well.
“Hundreds of inmates who have been in our custody for months, and even years in some cases, are in the process of being released as I speak,” McMahon said.
All of them have been seen by judges, who determined they should be held in custody, he said. “Some are considered a danger to the public and some are flight risks.”
“Blindly gifting zero bail is undoing hundreds of decisions previously made by our local judges,” McMahon said.
Sheriff’s officials pointed to several recent cases as evidence of the problem.
After arresting a person with a history of domestic violence and child abuse on suspicion of a new incident of felony child abuse, deputies were forced to release the inmate from custody with a court date in the summer, McMahon said.
“Based on this process, we are unable to hold this criminal in custody to ensure sure he does not recontact, live with or cause additional harm to the victim,” he said.
Deputies in Rancho Cucamonga caught burglary suspects on Thursday who had just broken into an under-construction restaurant and stole copper wiring and propane tanks, the department said in a written statement.
Despite being arrested while trying to sell the stolen goods at a nearby recycling center and being identified by witnesses as the burglars, the state mandate required the Sheriff’s Department to immediately release both men without bail after the booking process, officals said.
McMahon added that San Bernardino County is already equipped to deal with the pandemic, so the releases aren’t necessary.
“Currently, our jail population is well below our average, and we have sufficient bed space to isolate and quarantine inmates,” he said.
“This mandate may further embolden criminals to commit crimes because there will be delayed, if any, consequences for their criminal behavior,” McMahon said. “The effects of zero bail on the county could be devastating. This is not in the best interest of the communities we’re sworn to protect and serve.”
Sheriff’s officials said in a written statement hat San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said he joins McMahon in “strongly” opposing the zero bail policy.
“It makes no sense to keep law-abiding people in their homes, but let alleged criminals out of custody,” he said in a written statement.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco also released a video statement Friday lambasting the new policy, calling it “extremely reckless” and saying it “encourages criminal behavior.”
Bianco also said Riverside County jail populations are at “historically low levels, and we have more than enough space to isolate and quarantine infected inmates.”