Sacramento is out of control in so many ways, but especially when it comes to protecting the public from criminals.

In the last several years, Sacramento has dropped its responsibilities to protect our families and embarked on a social experiment — a series of misguided laws and policies that have released thousands of dangerous criminals from state prison and put them on our streets.

The state has also reduced penalties for many crimes. At the same time, the state has pushed hardened, career criminals into our county jails, taking up valuable space for new offenders and increasing San Bernardino County’s costs for beds and health care. These state policies are harming communities all over California and, together, we need to do something about it.

Sheriff John McMahon recently reported that violent crime is up 20 percent in the High Desert during the first half of this year. It is taking a toll on real people, like an innocent 12-year-old girl who was inside her home Wednesday night when someone walked up and fired multiple shots through a front window, killing her.

With more criminals on the street, we need more cops on the beat.

I encourage residents around the county to begin debating a countywide ballot measure for a sales tax dedicated strictly to public safety. As the need is carefully studied, then a determination can be made whether a possible ballot measure would be for a quarter, half, or three-quarter cent tax.

I do not believe in tax increases, and I’m sure you don’t either. In my view, we already pay enough in taxes. But until we get more right-minded legislators in Sacramento, we need a self-help solution to solve the crime problem.

On a $100 purchase, a quarter-cent sales tax would cost consumers an additional 25 cents that would go to public safety, including fire services, which are stretched thin or have been eliminated in many critical areas including interstate corridors. That would generate an estimated $81 million a year and directly translate into more Sheriff’s deputies, more prosecutors and funds to add 1,300 beds in the new jail to put more criminals behind bars. The Victorville City Council sees the same problem and recently supported the idea of a citywide ballot measure.

When we let criminals know that San Bernardino County is serious and has plenty of jail cells waiting for them, crooks will start migrating elsewhere. And that will be good for our children, our families, businesses and property values.

San Bernardino County used to send over 400 inmates to state prison every month. Now, because of California’s so-called criminal justice “reforms,” we send less than 100. County jails used to house inmates for a year or less. Now inmates who previously would have been in state prison are spending 10 or 15 years in county jails.

Unfortunately these are all problems made in Sacramento, but we will have to rely on ourselves to solve the crime problem. Back in 1989, voters in San Bernardino County approved Measure I, the countywide half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. It’s been such a success that in 2004, 80 percent of voters overwhelmingly extended it.

In 10 years, we can completely reshape the destiny of San Bernardino County and make it one of the safest counties in the state. If we don’t start that discussion now, we are going to lose the battle.

Maybe a sales tax is part of the answer, or maybe not. But in the end, it will be up to voters to decide the path ahead. 

Robert A. Lovingood is chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. He represents the First District, which includes much of the High Desert.