Public safety worries rise with deep cuts

May 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prison sentencing, fire protection, and police services all face budget cuts after Tuesday's special election. Now many wonder what could be in store for public safety.

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Just this week, a parolee with a loaded gun led CHP officers on a high speed chase across the Bay Bridge. In March, parolee Lovell Mixon shot and killed four Oakland police officers. It's those kind of incidents that frighten people when the governor talks about releasing prisoners to save money now that the budget measures have been defeated. State Attorney General Jerry Brown says he would review any such plan.

"You can't just let people out. You have to have a framework of supervision and motivation so that these individuals can be controlled and deterred from their behavior which is very anti-social," said Brown.

Last month Brown and the governor stood together outside a fire house in the city of Alameda, pushing for Prop 1A. Now cities and counties are bracing for blows to fire and police services. The governor is now proposing borrowing nearly $2 billion from local governments.

Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Jim Baker says the results will be devastating.

"It appears we should anticipate an additional $70 million hit to the county which we haven't planned for. So the serious nature is we've already made plans to cut every program, cut out every bit of not only the fat, but now the meat off the bone," says Baker.

Contra Costa County's fire protection district has already dipped into its reserves. Now even as first responders celebrate EMS Week with life saving demonstrations, there are concerns about what could be on the horizon.

"The majority of our budget comes from property taxes and I know there's a move to take away more of those property taxes. If they do, that will severely impact our services," says Emily Hopkins from the Contra Costa County Fire District.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says deep cuts can no longer be avoided.

"I think the message was very clear from the people. Go all out and make those cuts. Live within your means," says the governor.

The state did get a bit of good news on Wednesday -- $8 billion in federal Medicaid money that had been in jeopardy will be available.

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