According to sources at the city, the city attorney's office made the move after losing two attorneys because of recent and upcoming budget cuts. But now city council members are questioning whether the city really wants to let these crimes go unpunished.
Hookers, beggars and taggers. They're all free to commit their crimes in Fresno without fear of prosecution, at least for the time being.
Soliciting prostitution, panhandling in the median, and graffiti are all violations of the city's municipal code. Unlike a simple parking ticket, they're misdemeanors and in court, they're prosecuted by a deputy city attorney. But now, the city attorney's office has chosen not to spend time prosecuting municipal code violations. Some city council members say it's an unintended consequence of budget cuts.
"So, as policy makers you're doing the best you can to make difficult decisions, but sometimes you can't always foresee all the consequences," said Council Member Lee Brand.
Police officers say it's pointless to enforce city ordinances, knowing the violators will never be punished. But criminals aren't totally in the clear. City Council President Larry Westerlund says he's already gearing up to change the policy.
To Brand, it's just a question of finding the funding. "If we in fact want to prosecute those types of offenses, what else do we give up to pay for that?" he asked.
The statute of limitations on those cases is typically six months, so the city attorney's office could go back and file these cases as long as the policy changes soon.
The city council has the final say over policy at the city attorney's office and Westerlund says right now, city attorney Jim Sanchez has made this recommendation without council approval.
Westerlund says the council will take up the issue in a closed session in January, after the new council takes office. Action News tried to reach Sanchez for comment, but he didn't return our calls.