Assembly Member Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) on Oct. 30 announced a state ballot measure to prevent the early release of child traffickers, rapists and other serious and violent offenders. The announcement was made at a press conference on the west steps of the State Capitol.
Cooper said that he is not a fan of ballot initiatives, but finds the process necessary in this situation.
“I tried to do it through the process,” he said. “I ran several bills. I had the committee members that agreed to vote for my bills, and yet the chairman of the committee didn’t take the vote up.”
Cooper’s efforts are linked to Proposition 47, which, in 2014, reduced seven felony offenses to misdemeanors. And as a result, those offenses were no longer eligible for DNA collection.
Cooper said that since those changes, there have been 2,000 less cold case hits per year in the DNA database.
“That equates to over 450 violent crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, that have gone unsolved in California, because DNA is being collected from fewer individuals,” he said. “This measure restores DNA collection from persons from at least seven crimes that were previously considered felonies that are now considered misdemeanors.”
Shirley Derryberry, one of the speakers at the gathering at the Capitol, shared the story of the murders of her sister, Doris, and another young girl, Valerie Lane, that were solved through DNA that was collected through an unrelated drug crime 43 years later.
Cooper mentioned that under today’s system, that murder would still be classified as a cold case.
“That’s what’s mind-boggling,” he said. “Those two girls, 12 and 13, they were raped, sodomized and shot in the back of the head. That case does not get solved right now or the past three years.”
Cooper told the Citizen that most of the public feel the same way he feels on this issue.
“If you drug and rape a woman, human trafficking of a child, domestic violence, the public, 99 percent say, ‘Yeah, those should be serious and violent felonies.’ But some other folks don’t think that.
“So I came here to represent my constituents, which includes Elk Grove, and I’m going to fight for it. Right is right. If you poll people, this poll is very high and it’s a no-brainer. So, this is worth fighting for. So I’m going to fight for it.”
Cooper is a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s captain.
Among the other speakers who expressed their support for the initiative was Wayne Quint, Jr., executive director of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association.
“I want to thank Assembly Member Cooper for taking the leadership role, along with (District Attorney Anne Marie) Schubert from the Sacramento County district attorney’s office, on really what is a common sense initiative,” he said. “It’s bipartisan. A lot of people may not know that Assembly Member Cooper is a Democrat, but he feels very, very strongly that nonviolent criminals should not be designated that title when, in fact, they’re violent.”
Nina Salarno Besselman, president of Crime Victims United, said she also supports Cooper.
“We’re very supportive of Assemblyman Cooper, who is bringing forth this initiative,” she said. “It’s got common sense reforms that will protect the citizens of the state of California, (including) his hometown, Elk Grove. Sacramento is one of the top cities that’s experienced this explosion in crime. This is meant to protect our citizens and protect our most vulnerable: our children.”
The initiative would also make theft a felony for repeat offenders who are convicted of a third theft of property valued at $250 or more. Currently all thefts of $950 or less are classified as misdemeanors.
For the initiative to qualify for the November 2018 ballot, about 370,000 signatures would need to be collected.