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Officer Down: Implications of Three Strikes for Public Safety

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 16 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2005 Pages: 443-460
Jeffry L. Johnson; Michelle A. Saint-Germain
Date Published
December 2005
18 pages
This article examined whether the introduction of California's Three Strikes law in 1994 had an impact on the number and severity of violent confrontations between suspects and law enforcement officers and the number of suspects resisting arrest.
The 1994 California Three Strikes law is known for the strong public mandate that surrounds it. The law includes enhanced penalties for even two strikes. Critics claim that the law is unfairly applied against older defendants, the poor, and minorities and others argue that the law has been too expensive by increasing the number of court trials and prison costs and slowing the justice process. One aspect of the Three Strikes law that has been neglected has been its impact on those charged with enforcing public safety, the police. This article examines the impact of the law on front line officers, specifically whether there is a greater risk of injury by criminal suspects resisting arrest and increased contact with law enforcement due to the Three Strikes law. The study used a comparative, longitudinal research design where data were gathered from before and after implementation of the law in major urban centers in California. Analysis of the data from the major urban centers throughout California, where serious crime is concentrated, did not consistently display the indicators one would expect if more suspects were becoming more violent because of their fear of the law. It cannot be concluded that the five California jurisdictions collectively show any consistency in crime patterns or trends that significantly depart from those observed. However, with the heightened risk to officers appearing real and measurable, recommendations are presented and discussed. Figures, notes, references