Valley Voices

It’s high time to pass a Fresno public safety tax

A Neighborhood Watch sign is defaced with graffiti on Huntington Boulevard.
A Neighborhood Watch sign is defaced with graffiti on Huntington Boulevard.

As a parent, a crime victim, and a policy maker, I want to share a simple message: We cannot afford to continue to lose more people to crime and violence in our city.

For decades, public safety concerns have been addressed through tougher state sentencing laws and the promise of more local police officers alone. However, record incarceration rates were not fiscally sustainable for the state, and inmates didn’t receive effective rehabilitation while incarcerated, nor do they now upon their release.

Additionally, the combination of Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47 that led to Prison Realignment has failed to provide our community adequate resources and has resulted in the release of thousands of low-level inmates who are cycling in and out of state prisons and county jails.

Today, Fresno’s murder rate is almost double last year’s, violent crime has increased and smash-and-grab crimes are at a historic high. Our local police have responded with focused strategies, modern technology and renewed focused on more officers on patrol. Unfortunately, it has not kept pace with the continued growth of our city’s population and neighborhood needs.

In good economic times and bad, Fresno has not had a sufficient general-fund revenue to fulfill years of promises of more police officers. Without structural change, the latest promise of a 1,000-member police force will fail or at best be short lived. Currently, our city budget only funds about 800 positions, which includes approximately 60 vacancies.

I know too well the vulnerability of being a victim of crime. Sadly, I am not alone. Everyone can be a victim of crime. In fact, in Fresno, our schools, council members, college presidents, children walking from school and the elderly have all been victims.

We typically respond by filing a police report and insurance claim, adding home security, joining Neighborhood Watch, expressing our frustration on social media and wondering if this would have occurred if we lived farther north.

Local institutions have responded as well with short-term strategies. State Center Community College District expanded its police force and added $600,000 more in municipal police coverage. Fresno Unified School District funded ShotSpotter, added police officers to its middle school neighborhoods and recently more campus safety assistants to schools near city parks – a recognition that a city park has gone from an asset to a vulnerability for our children.

In the past, in order to prioritize police coverage, the city sacrificed other critical services including fire protection, parks and recreation, and services for the elderly just to keep our police force near 800 officers.

The time is now for us to develop long-term solutions for this deeply rooted problem. And the solution is within our grasp. In fact, it is something we have done before as a community.

We did it when we worked together to improve our local transportation system, save the Chaffee Zoo, and build new libraries and schools – all actions that improve our collective quality of life.

Should we consider doing it again for public safety?

We can fulfill our collective responsibility to ensure public safety with a sustainable long-term solution that includes three key components:

▪  Secure a dedicated revenue assessment for public safety and parks

▪  Increase the pipeline of trained first responders with modern, expanded facilities

▪  Enhance public oversight of policing policies and public-safety revenues

It is time to allow our community to weigh in, increasing our public safety through a dedicated revenue stream that provides additional prevention programs, parks and more police officers.

Many, including myself, are confident that our community, which approved Measure C (transportation), Measure Z (zoo), Measure B (libraries), and Measure X (schools), will see fit to invest in all our collective safety through a tax measure. Just last year, public-safety measures were approved in Riverside, Visalia, Sanger and Parlier.

Fresno City College stands ready to support the demand for new first responders as we plan and design a new $80 Million Career-Technical Education College campus that will include modern police and fire academies. Last, the Mayor’s Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board, which reviews police incidents and policies, could be expanded to provide oversight of public safety measure funds.

The time is now for our community to discuss how we secure additional sustained public-safety resources, green space amenities and prevention programs. I am confident that, given the opportunity to collaborate, our civic, business and resident leaders will produce a comprehensive plan that earns our community’s support and has a lasting impact on our collective public safety.

The time is now.

Miguel Arias of Fresno represents Fresno Area 5 on the State Center Community College District Board of Trustees. He can be reached at arias4scccd@gmail.com or 559-906-1433.

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