Opinion: I have direct experience policing crimes of prostitution. Here’s why Senate Bill 357 won’t work.
Zimmerman is a former San Diego Police Chief. She retired in 2018 after 35 years with the San Diego Police Department.
One of America’s most fundamental principles is the rule of law. Whether you are the President of the United States or a suspect on trial for murder, we are all bound by the law and its consequences.
Although the system does not always work perfectly, respecting the rule of law is the only way to have a democratic system of government and, more importantly, a functioning society.
However, California has spent the last decade debating various criminal justice reforms that are too focused on excusing criminal behavior and selective enforcement of our laws. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the rights of victims who rely on our legal system to deliver justice and undermines the rule of law.
When people are victims of crime, they deserve to know that the offenders will be held accountable. Whenever the system does not provide consequences for illegal activities, people lose faith in the rule of law and its ability to protect them from crime.
Despite voter concerns about California’s rising crime rate and visible signs of societal breakdown such as open drug use, California state lawmakers have continued to push for new laws that undermine the criminal justice process. The most recent example is Senate Bill 357which is a new law recently approved by Governor Gavin Newsom who will endanger victims of human trafficking and degrade poor area by decriminalizing “loitering to engage in prostitution”.
During my career, I was an undercover assistant detective, so I have first-hand experience in policing prostitution crimes. The tragic reality of prostitution is that many individuals, even minors, are victims of human trafficking and even minors. These people are among the most vulnerable in our society and are forced to live through indescribable circumstances.
The problem with Senate Bill 357 is that it takes away a tool for law enforcement to surveil our streets and protect these victims by uncovering the criminal operations controlling them. Prior to this, police could use the vagrancy law to contact a suspected prostitute, investigate and intervene – removing the individual from the watchful eye of their sexual attacker. Now that this tool has been removed, more prostitutes will be left on the streets unattended, and more neighborhoods will be negatively impacted by individuals openly engaging in prostitution.
When signing the law, the Governor Governor Newsom said that California does not legalize prostitution and that it will “monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences”. Yet, by creating a situation where there is now little law enforcement capacity, Senate Bill 357 is de facto legalization of street prostitution — an objective sought by certain organizations. Newsom’s own hesitation seems to recognize that this new law will not work as intended. Unfortunately, the police no longer have the capacity to take a calibrated approach to preventing open street solicitations and protecting victims who are coerced into this type of work.
Legislation like this is the next iteration of defunding the police, as it takes away the ability to enforce laws and sends a powerful message that certain crimes can be committed. As Californians continue to see an open defiance of the law in their communities, how long will it take for citizens to stop calling the police? When that happens, how many will take matters into their own hands or care less?
There are signs that people are fed up. The successful recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin shows that voters in one of the most liberal cities in the country are infuriated by the reluctance of some politicians to play by basic societal rules.
Fortunately, other recent legislative initiatives that would have undermined law and order have not been approved. For instance, Senate Bill 262 did not win support for creating a permanent zero-bail policy that would allow offenders to be repeatedly released immediately and skip their day in court when it comes time to face their charges. More recently, Assembly Bill 2790 failed to win support for removing the requirement for medical professionals to report suspected cases of domestic violence, which is currently a crucial way to identify abusers. In the interest of public safety, let’s hope these proposals stay dead.
Criminal justice reform should ensure a fair system to hold offenders accountable while providing protection for victims. Unfortunately, California focused too much on the former.
Our leaders need to know that communities want a society that values the rule of law.
It is not enough to vote only in the next elections. If Californians want change, they must engage in the political process by attending city council meetings, writing to their elected officials, and making their voices heard at every opportunity. This is how California can reverse this troubling trend.