The Veterans Hall was full on July 11, as hundreds turned out for the community meeting organized by Jen Luck and Mary Rickert. People came not only from Burney but also from Fall River Valley and Montgomery Creek in hope of finding positive solutions to problems of crime and the increase of homelessness in the area.
Jen Luck, Office Manager of the Burney Chamber of Commerce, began the meeting promptly at 6 p.m. and introduced County Supervisor Mary Rickert.
Supervisor Rickert gave brief opening remarks. She has been attending similar town meetings throughout our district in the county. She said that the subject is complex and that crime has deep underlying root causes. She said that where there has been the most success dealing with the problem is when people in the community work together and form local groups such as Neighborhood Watch where they monitor their neighborhood and address issues on the local level as they arise.
She also mentioned a community-building program called Meet The Neighbors. Meet the Neighbors does not focus only on crime. It’s mission is to give “you and your neighbors powerful tools to communicate, meet, organize, get important local stuff done…”
After sharing her opening remarks, members of the panel introduced themselves. Officials attending included Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, Lieutenant Tyler Thompson from the Burney Sheriff’s station, Lieutenant Scott Frederick from California Highway Patrol, Nick Truax from Cal Fire, Monte Keady from Burney Fire Protection District, and Rod Armstrong from the Burney Citizen Volunteer Patrol.
The first and main speaker of the evening was Sheriff Bosenko. He spoke for a half hour about the effect of several public safety bills and propositions. Because the US Supreme Court mandated a reduction in California’s overcrowded prisons, Assembly Bill 109 on Public Safety Realignment was passed in 2011. According to Bosenko, this resulted in the release of 30,000 inmates.
In addition, Proposition 47 reduced penalties for certain crimes and Proposition 57 altered sentencing rules. Many crimes have been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. As the state prison population has decreased the county jails have filled up. With shorter sentences, recidivism has increased.
Bosenko said that the problems have been compounded by limited resources to maintain facilities and manpower. Officers have to prioritize calls and they are limited as to what they can do by state regulation.
At the same time, Sheriff Bosenko cited statistics indicating that crime is down overall for the Burney, Fall River, and Montgomery Creek area.
He said that panhandling is not against the law, but that if business owners post “no soliciting” or “no trespassing” signs then they can be asked to move on or be prosecuted for trespassing if they don’t comply.
Concerning homelessness, Bosenko said, “All homeless people are not criminals and all criminals are not homeless.”
If people are camped or squatting on private land, they can not be removed unless it is posted “No trespassing.”
He then opened the floor to questions, of which there were many.
Generally speaking the questions and comments fell into three categories: 1) people who wanted to know what the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement could do to deal with burglaries, squatting, trash in the woods. etc. 2) People asking what they themselves could do, and 3) people recounting personal stories of problems they had encountered with theft, unruly, or indecent behavior.
One man said, “I came here to find out what you can do for me!”
Another said, “Are you telling us that Sacramento has handcuffed you?” To which Bosenko answered in the affirmative.
There was some advice in regard to burglary and suspicious behavior concerning getting license plate numbers and descriptions, but a lot of the responses concerned regulations and lack of manpower and resources that impeded action.
Cal Fire and Burney Fire Department advised people to notify them if there were any fires in the woods.
The representative from CHP said that their work was mainly in the area of traffic law enforcement and safety, but that they and other law enforcement agencies were also there to back up and work together with local law enforcement.
Monte Keady said that while we are facing current problems we should also be taking action that would address underlying issues and ensure a better future such as mentoring our youth.
When people asked what they could do generally, they were advised to communicate with appropriate law enforcement officers. If violations occurred on US Forest Service Land, people should contact the Forest Service and they would take action. If there were encampments or trash on private land, people should notify the landowners such as Sierra Pacific, PG&E, or United Fruit Growers.
The most sound advice seemed to be that of Mary Rickert to form community associations and work together with their neighbors in cooperation with local public services.
Someone asked about citizen’s arrests. Bosenko said that people could make arrests but they needed to be careful in apprehending people because they may be on drugs, armed or dangerous. Also, if the charges were not successfully prosecuted they could be sued for false arrest.
One lady who had military experience asked about carrying a gun. Bosenko advised her that she had a right for her and her family to walk in public areas and trails, and if they had a concealed weapons permit and felt that there was a need to protect themselves they could carry a weapon.
There were also questions and discussions regarding the Windmill Fund and the Fire Protection Tax. Cal Fire said that most of the money spent from the tax in Shasta County had been to build the fire break near Burney after the fire two years ago.
The room was hot and many left early but a lot of people stayed until the end.
When one attendee said that he felt that more town meetings were necessary not only on these issues but on other issues such as the condition of the parks in Burney, Mary Rickert committed that she would be willing to come up and host a town meeting once a month.
One bright spot towards the end was when a request was made for specific activities volunteers could be involved in, Rickert asked Rod Armstrong from the Citizens Patrol to speak. He described the activities of the patrol and how people could get involved. Several people signed up as volunteers after the meeting. More volunteers are still needed.
There was broad representation of the meeting. Not only were many business people, homeowners and concerned parents present, but also several ministers who would like to address these problems. Tri Counties Community Network was present. Representatives of Circle of Friends also attended. They have had considerable success helping some people to get out of homelessness, and many others overcome substance abuse and addiction.
The meeting ended after 8 p.m. Many stayed until 8:45 to talk with officials and each other.
The next day, Jen Luck said that she is already working on ideas for future meetings. She has researched and joined Meet the Neighbors and hopes that others will do so to create local community groups dedicated to community improvement and practical problem solving.
Since the meeting there has been a lot of conversation on social media, amongst friends, family and neighbors and in several meetings. Some are frustrated but others are determined to find constructive ways to address the situation.