Looking behind the scenes: Jail tries catch and release

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Transferring the notebook to a teleprompter while contemplating my latest get-rich-quick scheme. I’m going to charge TV reporters and anchors a nickel for every time they use the word “actually” and a dime for every paragraph that begins with the word “now.” Now, on to other items, which actually mean something ... By now, most of us realize that the state’s answer to prison overcrowding is not to build additional hoosegows, but to send the convicted back onto the streets. According to Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner, the state’s recent catch-and-release policy hasn’t greatly affected life in Placer County, although that could change should some court cases go the wrong way. Bonner does say that his jail continues to make some early releases because of the Federal Consent Decree, which basically limits jails throughout the state to keep the inmate population at about 90 percent of occupancy rates. “We have a complex system of who we let go early, and have been managing it quite well,” Bonner said. He explained the system looks at an inmate’s time left to serve, what the conviction was for, and the current status (such as if it’s a pre-trial custody hold). But way down the list of those eligible for early release are those held on DUI convictions. “We feel that a DUI person is one of the most significant-risk offenders in this county,” the sheriff said. Apparently it is also one of the most-committed crimes in the county. According to Bonner’s statistics, 23 percent of the roughly 12,000 Placer County arrests in 2007-08 were DUI cases. And stats for the first six months of the following fiscal year show an identical 23 percent rate for DUI arrests. “Even more tragic is the fact that many DUI arrests could have been prevented,” he said. “Apparently we’re all social animals, so if friends would just tell friends not to drive, or act as a designated driver, we could prevent a lot of DUI incidents.” Bonner said that he does see young adults leading the way in keeping inebriated friends from driving, as well as opting to use designated drivers. “And more and more establishments are providing free soft drinks or even appetizers for designated drivers,” Bonner added. Hopefully, the young adults’ attitude will become the prevailing one, although if it doesn’t, perhaps we should examine how Finland handles DUIs. Over there, your first DUI conviction is your last, because you are never allowed to drive again, for any reason ... Park it here: It well could be that the city of Auburn will soon have a higher level of enforcement against those who violate parking laws. For a while, Auburn had an excellent level of enforcement. Too much so, as I remember from my days of playing parking leapfrog while working for KAHI. But that level drastically fell off in recent times. “That’s because our enforcement officer was a police dispatcher who handled enforcement part-time,” said City Councilman Mike Holmes, who added that the enforcement level dwindled for fiscal reasons. “The officer was doing a good job of enforcement, but was getting paid at the dispatcher’s rate while working parking,” he said. Not fiscally sound, especially in these times. Holmes said the city appears to be close to reinstating a parking enforcement officer, perhaps within the next three months. “Part of the problem was dealing with the (police) union, which wanted the enforcement officer to be part of the union,” Holmes said. “After some discussions, we may be near an agreement to use well-trained volunteers to take over parking enforcement,” he said. Holmes said having a volunteer enforcement officer on duty aids the city in a number of ways, not the least of which is — obviously — enforcement. “But there’s also revenue enhancement from ticketing the scofflaws, as well as savings on wages.” Mailbag: Yes, Mike Schumacher of Foresthill, you are correct that big events such as the upcoming Amgen tour seldom — if ever — take into consideration the effect they bring to communities with parking restrictions and the like. However, in their defense, there does seem to be a trade-off if you consider the benefits they simultaneously bring to the local communities. But you are completely correct in pointing out they should at least ask before doing it. Also, Bill in Bowman wonders why so few people are running against seated Placer County supervisors. Well, it could be that many feel the current supes are doing the best they can, or it may be that the pay is way too low to try to settle the myriad problems facing them these days. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at