Contra Costa County changes drug charge policy

Bay Area

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office will no longer file charges against most people arrested for being in possession of a small amount of drugs.

District Attorney Diana Becton announced Thursday that she is making this a formal policy.

The formal policy change came as a surprise to local law enforcement that we spoke with, including the county sheriff.

DA Becton announced a formal policy change. Most people caught with a small amount of drugs will no longer be arrested, but instead — provided treatment options.

The DA says prosecutors will use their discretion, and in some situations the policy may not apply.

Exceptions include if the person has been arrested on three previous occasions in the past year for a misdemeanor drug offense, if the theft is more than $300 in value or if the person is on probation.

County Sheriff David Livingston said he and the county police chiefs were not aware of this policy change until today.

He said in a statement that he supports “treatment when it works. But every citizen who has had their car broken into, their home burglarized or property stolen should know the vast majority of those crimes are committed by so-called ‘low level’ drug offenders.”

KRON4 also heard from Concord police, who said in part that “the supposed ‘low level’ type offenses are at the core of quality of life calls for service in Concord. Residents, business owners, and individuals trying to enjoy public spaces will definitely feel and see the difference when we cannot get those using drugs and committing the ‘low level’ crimes prosecuted.”

District Attorney Diana Becton said the responses from law enforcement were shocking because she met with county police chiefs before making the formal policy change.

“The thing about this is that people seem to get the impression that there will be no accountability and that’s not actually accurate,” Becton said. “They will be held accountable and that victims will definitely receive any compensation that is due to them because of the crime that is committed.”

The district attorney said the idea is to keep low-level recreational drug users out of the criminal justice system and in the health care system — to reduce the strain in courts and on law enforcement and provide treatment options for those in need.

The new policy gives the district attorney’s office more time to focus on violent criminals, drug dealers, and street gangs.

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