Down by law

Why Sacramento cops aren’t down with one anti-gang proposal

Law enforcement officials have been reluctant to support County Supervisor Roger Dickinson’s anti-gang initiative.

Law enforcement officials have been reluctant to support County Supervisor Roger Dickinson’s anti-gang initiative.

Cops hate gangs, right? So you’d think local law-enforcement types would be all over County Supervisor Roger Dickinson’s proposal to fund anti-gang programs and keep kids off the streets. But with little time left to get the measure on the November ballot, the cops are still holding out.

The measure would raise the county sales tax by a quarter-cent, from 7.75 cents on the dollar to 8 cents. It would be expected to raise about $50 million in anti-gang and violence-prevention programs; half the money would be given directly to local governments, and half would be spent by a commission created as part of the measure.

On Tuesday, July 22, the County Board of Supervisors will consider whether to put the proposal on the November ballot. Since it’s a tax measure, 67 percent of voters must approve the proposal for it to become law.

Dickinson said the measure is intended give policy-makers flexibility and not to lock in a certain list of programs. It has garnered support from much of Sacramento’s political establishment, like Mayor Heather Fargo, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg and community groups like Area Congregations Together. But one key group of endorsements is still missing.

“The flexibility is what worries me,” said Kevin Mickelson, president of the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. “We’re running this initiative on the back of our fallen officer Vu Nguyen. But there’s been zero specificity about what we’re going to do.”

Nguyen was gunned down by a Vietnamese gang member in south Sacramento late last year. His widow has appeared at several events with Dickinson to promote the measure.

Mickelson said he’s been meeting with Dickinson to try and work out a deal. The Sacramento Police Officers Association is also holding back. The elected sheriff, John McGinness and the district attorney, Jan Scully, are also neutral so far.

“The law-enforcement interests are concerned they won’t get as much as they need. The local jurisdictions are concerned they won’t get as much as they need. That’s legitimate,” said Dickinson.

But there may be some territoriality at work as well. Before he left his post, Sacramento Police Chief Al Najera floated the idea of a public-safety ballot measure—but the idea looks like it’s been shelved for the time being.

The sheriffs, too, have been considering their own ballot measure aimed at putting more cops on the street. But Mickelson said the timing isn’t right in 2008. A 2010 measure is still a possibility. “I think voters would vote on a measure that was solely public safety if you were very specific,” he explained.

But if law enforcement is holding out to run their own ballot measures, they might want to consider the track records for similar efforts.

In 1998, Measure M, a county measure which would have paid for additional police and firefighters by raising sales taxes was rejected 68 to 32 percent. In 1994, a similar measure was beaten 73 to 27 percent.

“Those were ‘give us some more money and we’ll hire some more cops’ measures. And they were beaten badly,” Dickinson said. “Besides, I think a measure that is strictly law enforcement doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem.”