As a retired 40-year law enforcement and criminal justice professional, including 24 years in the FBI, I strongly support California’s Proposition 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole (true permanent imprisonment). While some of my professional law enforcement brethren disagree with me, the path to making this state safer is clear – stop wasting billions of dollars on the dysfunctional death penalty system, and put that money into more police officers and other local law-enforcement efforts to go after the epidemic of unsolved crimes.
The death penalty is actually much more expensive than a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. California taxpayers have spent $4 billion administering the death penalty in this state since it was reinstated in 1978. Yet, only 13 executions have been carried out in the same time period – a cost of $308 million per execution. Switching to permanent imprisonment will save the state $130 million every year, allowing for better funding of education and similar programs that prevent crime.
Police chiefs around the country agree with me. A recent survey of 500 randomly selected police chiefs nationwide reported: “The nation’s police chiefs rank the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. The [chiefs] do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder, and they rate it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime.” Even the state legislators who wrote our current death penalty have now come out against it – stating how dysfunctional the death penalty has become. They support Prop 34.
The death penalty is not a deterrent. During my career, I have encountered numerous murderers and not one of them ever gave any consideration to being caught, much less receiving the death penalty for their crimes. For years, the 17 states without a death penalty have experienced statistically lower murder rates across the board than do the 33 states still having one.
California is also at risk of executing an innocent person. Across the country, 141 death row inmates have been exonerated and released. In the past two decades, a total of over 870 prison inmates have been exonerated after wrongful convictions. California recently earned the dubious distinction of being the leader, nationwide, in wrongful convictions and exonerations with 200 on the record. It is presumptuous for us to think that of the 729 people currently on our death row, not one of them is factually innocent. The evidence convincingly illustrates the contrary.
My opinion on the death penalty has changed over the years, and I have seen all sides of this issue. I personally participated in convicting the killers of two supermarket clerks and sending them to death row in Texas. I also lost a family member to homicide, and that killer has never been found. Now, looking back on my 40 year career, I can see the issue with a clear head: The death penalty does not work. It is broken beyond repair, and must be replaced.
It’s time for justice that works for everyone. It’s time to help this state save billions of dollars. It’s time to make sure we never execute an innocent person. It’s time to Vote “Yes” on Proposition 34!
om Parker is a former California police officer, former member of the Santa Barbara Fire and Police Commission, and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Los Angeles (Retired)