In Aftermath of East Area Rapist Arrest, Battle Over 'Keep California Safe' Initiative and DNA Collection Likely to Intensify

April 26, 2018 | UPDATED

While this week's arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer case was met with relief by law enforcement and family members of victims, it is also likely to spill over into the political arena. One area where it could become an issue is in attempts to roll back changes brought by Proposition 47 that reclassified several crimes.

Passed by California 59-percent of voters in 2014 by, Proposition 47 reclassified several crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, set a process for inmate whose convictions were downgraded to petition for release, and for those who had already served their sentence. The changes were praised by a variety of civil rights and social justice groups but opposed by law enforcement groups such as police and prosecutors and various business interests.   

A group calling themselves Keep California Safe is currently gathering signatures to place a measure on the November 2018 ballot to roll back several of the reforms brought on by Proposition 47. Among those changes would be a reclassification of several crimes and the collection of DNA samples of those suspects convicted of certain misdemeanors. 

Although the details were not provided at the news conference on Wednesday announcing the arrest, the role matching DNA played in the arrest has become front and center. Not only will the methods used to match the DNA will be brought up during DeAngelo's trial, but the entire role of DNA sampling of suspects will undoubtedly spill over into this year's California ballot propositions elections.

On the same day of DeAngelo's arrest, a group supporting the initiative effort, Crime Victims United of California (CVUC) issued a statement regarding efforts of a group on the opposite side of the issue, PICO. CVUC took exception to PICO's characterization of several grocers via social media who financially support the proposed initiative.

PICO - Pacific Institute for Community Organization - is the national umbrella group founded in Oakland in 1972 by Fr. John Baumann, a Jesuit priest. The group describes itself as "independent non-profit organizations made up of religious congregations, schools and neighborhood institutions" that focus on social justice issues.

This week on Twitter, PICO California launched a social media campaign against several grocers operating in California. In their numerous postings, PICO California asserts that grocers including Albertsons, Costco, Safeway, Kroger's Ralph's, and Raley's support of the effort to roll back portions of Proposition 47 as an expansion of prison construction spending and a reassertion of Jim Crow laws.

According to information posted on the California Secretary of States website, Costco has contributed $50,000, Safeway $100,000, Raley's $15,000, and Ralph's $91,800. Grocers in particualar are interested in the initiatives as it would specifically address organized retail theft rings, which under current law are considered "wobblers."

In response to the campaign, CVUC struck back with a press release asserting the PICO has distorted the goals of the initiative to roll back Proposition 47.  Not holding back, CVUC called PICO "a so-called faith group" and that its tweets against Safeway were "tragically inaccurate, misleading and insensitive."

Along with praise for Safeway and others, CVUC said PICO's assertion the initiative was about prison construction was inaccurate, and that it will reclassify suspects whose DNA can be collected. It is this point of DNA collection of people arrested, but not convicted, for several classes of misdemeanors that could well plaster the mugshot of DeAngelo in TV commercials, and mailers should the initiative make it on the November ballot.  

Another person mentioned in at least one of several tweets associated with PICO Twitter campaign (see below) is Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D - Elk Grove). A retired law enforcement officer, since his 2014 election to the Assembly Cooper has made the collection of DNA of arrested suspects one of his legislative priorities.

Even though Cooper has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation during his first two terms to expand DNA collection, he is undeterred in his determination to see the practice expanded. To this end, Cooper has contributed $50,000 to the Keep California Safe committee and is one of two Assemblymembers lending their name to the campaign.

In an opinion piece submitted to this site, Cooper wrote "If you believe that repeat serial thieves who flaunt recent reforms deserve to be held accountable; If you believe that greater access to DNA evidence will help solve rapes and murders, as we saw this week with finally capturing the East Area Rapist; and if you believe convicted perpetrators of domestic violence, rape of an unconscious person, sex trafficking of a child, and drive by shootings should be ineligible for early release from prison; then you will support the Reducing Crime and Keep California Safe Act.”    

Separately, Cooper also posted a message on the Keep California Safe website condemning the social media campaign agonst the grocers. Though he did not specifically mention PICO, Cooper said the campaign "far exceeds the line of respectful political debate and attempt to intimidate and bully good California companies from participating in the political process by making outrageous accusations against them."

Though it all, as of this posting, PICO continues their social media efforts unabated.   

While it is still to be determined if the efforts of Keep California Safe will succeed, if they appear on the ballot expect a huge push from them in mass media that could narrowly focus on the DNA aspect of the proposition. And yes, be prepared to see DeAngelo's mugshot for months to come.

The second paragraph was added after the initial posting referencing Proposition 47. 

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