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Prison realignment: Hope meets reality

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 01/24/2014 @ 03:45 PM

Advocates were wishing and hoping that California’s high recidivism rate – the percentage of inmates who commit new crimes soon after release from prison – would decline when prison realignment took hold. The idea was that as the state downsized its prison population by 25,000 by transferring inmates to county jails, local officials would be better able to provide community-based corrections that would reduce recidivism.

Skeptics (we were and are among them) understood that limited jail space for parole violators meant that counties would end up releasing inmates early and that already overloaded probation officers would have difficulty monitoring with an increased workload. We were also concerned that the program was underfunded.

We are now getting a clearer picture of what is happening in the real world.

One of the best sources to date for evaluating the realignment program is a recently published analysis of state data by the Sacramento Bee. The data shows about 60 percent of parolees released to counties from October 2011 through September 2012 were arrested for new offenses within 12 months of leaving prison. This is compared to the CDCR’s report released back in 2012 that indicates an average recidivism rate of 47.4 percent after one year. Contrary to the hopes of realignment advocates, this latest data indicates the state’s recidivism rate has increased by more than 12 percent rather than decreased.

In addition, the state’s failure to provide notice to counties when releasing dangerous, violent felons is the latest broken promise of the governor’s realignment program that endangers public safety. Governor Brown has the ability to immediately reduce prison overcrowding and eliminate the need for realignment by expanding existing contracts with in-state and out-of-state detention facilities.

As Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich pointed out, the public was promised that realignment would:

  • Only shift low-risk offenders to county probation departments. However, less than 2 percent of the offenders are low risk, while over 60 percent are very high or high risk and 37 percent are medium risk.
  • Save the state money. However, the budget of the California Department of Corrections increased by $200 million after realignment.
  • Help the state meet the requirements of the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

This has proven to not be the case.

We’re hardly surprised. While some may argue it’s still too early to assess the impact of prison realignment on the recidivism rate, the fact remains that realignment is not working as its sponsors had hoped. For starters, it is underfunded for the role counties are expected to play in the program. Another big problem is that program sponsors pledged only non-violent, low-level offenders would be sent to county jails. But according to the Bee, that is not what is actually happening. In realignment’s first year, 16 percent of new arrests for county parolees were for violent crimes, including 41 murders!

As more data becomes available, we will continue to closely track the effects of reducing the state’s prison population.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Two years into prison realignment, do you know where your car is?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/18/2013 @ 03:33 PM

If your automobile insurance suddenly costs more, it might have something to do with prison realignment. Here’s why:

A report this month from the nonpartisan Public Police Institute of California (PPIC) found that motor vehicle theft jumped nearly 15 percent in the first year of prison realignment (between 2011 and 2012). That’s about 65 more auto thefts per year for every 100,000 residents – far exceeding nationwide trends. In a comparison with other states, California had the highest increase in this crime category. The increase of about 24,000 auto thefts per year reverses a declining trend in this theft rate and brings it back to 2009 levels.

Of late, auto theft has gotten even more popular as the crime of choice, increasing by more than 20 percent in each of the last few months of 2012 when compared to 2010 trends.

“Realignment has brought enormous change to California, and it appears to have affected auto thefts, in particular,” Magnus Lofstrom, a research fellow for the PPIC and co-author of the report, told Capitol Weekly. “Nonetheless, despite recent increases, rates of property and violent crime remain at historically low levels in the state – substantially lower than they were a decade ago.”

Property crime – car theft, larceny and burglary – had three-year peaks in October 2012 and December 2012 that are 15 and 8 percent higher, respectively, than in the same months in 2010, according to the report compiled from monthly data published by the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center.

Lofstrom hypothesizes the spike in auto thefts may be related to the 74 percent recidivism rate for that offense in 2012. In other words, those offenders are more likely to continue committing auto thefts after they are released than those who were incarcerated for other reasons.

California has 8,000 more state prison inmates than its court-mandated limit of 110,000, the report noted. It warned that if the state further reduces the prison population rather than transferring prisoners to other facilities, the effect on property crime could be between 7 and 12 percent greater per released offender than realignment’s current effect.

A helpful byproduct of the report is its suggestion to take a close look at alternative crime-reducing strategies such as increased policing. “In particular, our analysis suggests that more crimes, between 3.5 and 7 times as many, would be prevented by spending an additional dollar on policing rather than on prison incarceration,” the report said.

With LAPD struggling to keep up with attrition in its ranks, city officials would do well to consider investing more in policing. That would be a smart and cost-effective way to counteract the continuing impact of prison realignment on society while doing more to fulfill their public safety responsibilities.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Council approves settlement in ticket quota case

By on 12/11/2013 @ 10:26 PM

The California Vehicle Code forbids the Los Angeles Police Department from establishing a policy whereby an officer must meet a ticket quota, and a “quota” is defined as “any requirement regarding the number of arrests made, or the number of citations issued . . . or the proportion of those arrests made and citations issued by a peace officer . . . relative to the arrests made and citations issued by another peace officer...” (Vehicle Code § 41600 and 46102.) The quota statutes were designed to protect the community. This week, City Council considered allegations brought against the Department and unanimously approved a $5.9 million settlement to resolve lawsuits filed by 11 LAPD officers who said they were pushed to meet quotas for issuing traffic tickets. The officers contended they were denied overtime, issued negative comment cards, were given bad performance reviews, were subjected to interrogations without reps, and that two were pushed through de-selection proceedings because they did not implement traffic ticket quotas.

We would like to congratulate their attorneys, Matthew McNicholas and Gregory Smith, on the settlement, and thank them for handling these cases for the last four years on behalf of our members, who had claims that they were ordered to issue 18 tickets per shift and make sure that 80 percent of tickets issued were “major movers.” They also claimed if they did not meet those requirements, a performance review would be written up saying they did not meet the goal.

This case is a reminder that the Department may not base a promotion, demotion, or denial of any benefits solely on the number of citations an officer has issued. (Vehicle Code, § 46103.) The lawsuit alleged that Captain Nancy Lauer, in clear violation of the law, had instituted a de facto ticket quota policy at West Traffic Division that resulted in negative comments on Employee Comment Sheets and the deselection of at least one police officer. These actions were alleged to have persisted despite the Department’s tacit admission that the policy was inappropriate, and prior rulings against the Department for similar quota claims.

In 2009, after League directors approached the Department to resolve the issues at WTD without litigation, personnel at ERG conducted an examination and agreed to a settlement instrument saying there would be no unlawful ticket quotas. However, that document, nor it’s contents, did not appear to have ever been disseminated to any of the officers at WTD by the Department or West Bureau.

In 2010, Officers Howard Chan and David Benioff filed suit alleging retaliation for refusing to follow an illegal quota. In April 2011, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded LAPD Officers Howard Chan and David Benioff a total of $2 million in a separate lawsuit after determining that supervisors had retaliated against them for complaining about alleged traffic ticket quotas. Officers who were witnesses in this previous case were among the 11 officers included in the $5.9 million settlement. Like Chan and Benioff, they also worked under Nancy Lauer, who was the commanding officer of the West Traffic Division and has since been promoted and is currently assigned to Harbor Division.

It’s unfortunate that the officers had to fight this issue with civil actions for almost four years. It’s more unfortunate that violations by the Department continue and cause more taxpayer money to be used to right their wrongs. The League is always willing to try to resolve these issues, and we can only hope that this is the last time LAPD officers have to settle this type of grievance in the court system. As the Department is fond of saying, public safety can be achieved when personnel demonstrate character, courage and compassion with a reverence for the law and a commitment to Constitutional Policing.

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Time to Oppose Another Cop Killer’s Parole

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/04/2013 @ 05:15 PM

LAPD Detective Thomas Williams

The Los Angeles Police Protective League vehemently opposes the release of Voltaire Williams, who was involved in the brutal ambush assassination of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams. The murder occurred on Halloween in 1985 in a spray of gunfire just as Det. Williams was picking up his young son from his son’s daycare center.

Det. Williams had arrested Daniel Jenkins, an associate of Voltaire Williams and had testified in his robbery trial. In a desperate attempt to sabotage the trial and to get revenge against the detective for his part in the prosecution, Voltaire Williams, Daniel Jenkins and the triggerman conspired to kill Det. Thomas Williams. Voltaire Williams has never expressed remorse for his role in the murder.

Now, Det. Williams’ two adult children and widow, along with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, are emphatically protesting the release of Voltaire Williams. We urge you to keep this brutal killer behind bars for the public good.

Voltaire Williams is scheduled to have a parole hearing on February 5, 2014*, at Solano State Prison, where he should remain for the rest of his life.

Please take the time to send a letter to the Parole Board expressing your opposition to his possible parole. You can read the letter the Police Protective League sent HERE . Please mail all letters to:

California State Prison, Solano
RE: Voltaire Williams CDC NO: E17796
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville, CA 95696

UPDATE 12-4: The Officer Down Memorial Page website ODMP.ORG has a preformatted letter that you can edit and print specifically for this parole hearing. It can be found HERE.

UPDATE 12-6: The parole hearing date has been updated to Feb. 5 from the previously published date of March 9.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Hopeful signal from the U.S. Supreme Court?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/15/2013 @ 03:45 PM

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. – The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Adopted in 1792, the Fourth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

Seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed what happens if police show up at a house occupied by two people, request permission to search the house and one occupant says yes and the other says no. In that ruling, the court said in the event of a tie between disagreeing occupants, the objecting occupant wins.

Fast forward to 2013. On Wednesday, the court considered the case of Fernandez v. California (12-7822) involving an October 2009 police search of an apartment in Los Angeles shared by a suspected street gang member and his girlfriend. In that case, the defendant’s girlfriend – who lived with the defendant in the apartment along with her children – answered the door. She was bruised and bloody. The defendant then approached the door, and the officers asked him to step back, as they suspected he had assaulted his girlfriend. The defendant refused and objected to a search, so the officers restrained him and walked him away from the entrance of the apartment. The officers soon realized that the defendant was the suspect in a gang-related assault, and arrested him for that crime. One hour later, the officers returned to the apartment, asking the girlfriend to consent to a search. She agreed, and the search revealed evidence of the defendant’s crime.

The case is being followed closely in Los Angeles and across the nation because it could narrow legal protections against police searches. Reporting on the court hearing, David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times said the high court appeared to back the warrantless home search by LAPD officers.

“Justices appeared to agree with attorneys for the Los Angeles Police Department, who defended the search as legal because the gang member, Walter Fernandez, was not present and his girlfriend gave police permission to enter their home,” Savage reported.

We are encouraged by reports from Wednesday’s hearing and are grateful to the attorneys for the LAPD who defended the officers’ actions. We are hopeful the justices will agree that the Fernandez search was legal. We shall anxiously await the court’s decision as it will provide further guidance on the application of the Fourth Amendment more than 220 years after its adoption.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Is it ever OK not to use a safety belt?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/12/2013 @ 04:47 PM

LAPD policy mandates that employees wear safety belts whenever operating a Department vehicle, but gives discretion to officers for tactical considerations.

A report of the Department’s audit presented last week to the Los Angeles Police Commission is likely to rekindle the on-again/off-again debate on safety belt use by police officers and the extent to which tactical considerations should be a factor in non-use.

The report by Inspector General Alexander Bustamante said a review of the Department’s Traffic Collision Reports for the second quarter of 2012 “suggests the incidence of officer safety belt non-use could be as high as 37 percent.”

That percentage would be in line with national statistics. In the past three decades, at least 42 percent of police officers killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing safety belts or other safety restraints, according to a federal review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, the NHTSA found that traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of law enforcement fatalities for 14 of the past 15 years.

“Aside from policy considerations,” Bustamante wrote, “the immediate concern regarding the officer non-use of safety belts is that officers are needlessly placing themselves at risk of injury. Our review identified that officers sustained injuries, sometimes serious, in almost 18 percent of the collisions when safety belts were not used. In contrast, when officers did use safety belts, they suffered injuries less than 7 percent of the time, and none of the injuries were serious.”

Bustamante recommended that the Police Commission direct the Department to review its safety belt policies to determine whether officer vehicle safety is sufficiently emphasized and whether the Department employs sufficient incentives for safety belt use, or appropriate penalties for non-use.

This important issue has been researched, studied and debated since modern safety belts became standard equipment in police cruisers and civilian automobiles more than half a century ago. Over the years, a variety of reasons have been cited in Los Angeles and across America for non-use of safety belts. While some officers are disinclined to use seat belts because they believe the restraints slow their movement in and out of their cars – potentially putting them at a tactical disadvantage – the reality is that officers can be trained to use seat belts and be tactically sound. With proper training and regular use, officers can use seat belts without having the straps get tangled with utility or gun belts and slowing their tactical response.

The State of Maryland Highway Safety Office, in collaboration with the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, Maryland Sheriffs’ Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police, has released an outstanding 12-minute video called “Arrive Alive.” This video discusses the importance of seat belts and the hazards of excessive speed and distraction in order to assist their officers to arrive alive.

“Arrive Alive” is now available on the POST Learning Portal. It may also be downloaded from the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association website.

We welcome a comprehensive review of safety belt use, with the goal of balancing the needs for maximum safety on the roads and the ability to respond instantly in an ambush or other unexpected encounter. We urge officers to participate in this process. Please share your experiences and thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Wear your seat belt, watch your speed and practice SAFE driving!

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Fighting for officers’ rights

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/24/2013 @ 11:37 AM

We are encouraged by a Court of Appeal decision this week reinstating the LAPPL’s lawsuit challenging the unfair policy of Chief Beck to issue “involuntary conditional Official Reprimands” to officers accused of disciplinary actions.

Justice Walter Croskey, on behalf of a unanimous panel of justices, agreed with the League’s strongly-held belief that its lawsuit sufficiently stated grounds for injunctive and declaratory relief where the complaint alleged that conditional reprimands violate officers’ rights by imposing “a predetermined minimum disciplinary penalty which will be imposed in the event of a future commission of the same or similar misconduct by the officer.”

The League is adamant that such predetermined discipline violates officers’ state and federal constitutional rights to a fair and impartial hearing, as well as rights guaranteed by state statute and the city’s charter.

Thankfully, the League’s arguments resonated with Justice Croskey who set aside a misguided earlier ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern. The Court of Appeal justices also ordered that the City must reimburse the League’s legal costs of the appeal.

We shall continue to use all means available to aggressively protect our members’ legal rights in this and all other cases.

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Texas billionaire funds latest attack on California pensions

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/17/2013 @ 11:37 AM

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and mayors from four other California cities announced a pension reform initiative on Tuesday that would amend the California Constitution. They are attempting to add the initiative to the November 2014 state ballot.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and mayors from four other California cities announced a pension reform initiative on Tuesday that would amend the California Constitution. They are attempting to add the initiative to the November 2014 state ballot.

A new pension initiative funded by out-of-state interests has been filed to amend the California Constitution to let the City reduce the pension benefits of police officers and other government employees. Texas billionaire John Arnold, who made millions working for Enron during the Enron-initiated California energy crisis, provided the majority of the funding for this initiative.

The initiative would allow all public employers to unilaterally reduce its employees’ pension formula going forward, increase the age at which employees would be able to retire to collect a retirement under the new formula, and increase the amount of money employees have to pay into the pension system each week. The initiative establishes that all of the changes would be set at whatever level the employer wants.

The initiative sets no floor on benefit changes, so Los Angeles police officers and other city employees would be at the City’s mercy as to how low the takeaways will go. 1.5 percent at age 60 for current police officers; no COLAs for future years of service; no more retiree health care to be earned for future years of service – and any, all or more (less!) could be implemented at the City’s discretion or even decreased in future years if the City wanted to go that route. If the City decided it would no longer pay into the pension system, you would have to pay all of the yearly pension costs that could be imposed.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, which represents active and retired public employees, said the measure “breaks the promise of a secure retirement made to millions of Californians, many of whom are ineligible for Social Security and have an average pension of $26,000 per year. It will allow public employers to unilaterally cut the retirement benefits promised to current teachers, firefighters, police officers and school bus drivers.”

The initiative will also require employers to develop a “funding plan” for those pension plans, which are funded at less than 80 percent. The guise of having to meet this funding plan will, of course, provide cover for employers to affect your current pay. Raises, overtime, and future benefit increases in areas such as medical plans would no longer be on the table in order to keep up with the rising costs of the new funding plan.

Changes that lower pension benefits have been applied to new workers because they know up front the bargain they have entered. Abolishing collective bargaining and instead imposing reductions to pension and retiree health benefits – after an employee has committed a substantial part of their productive working life to an employer – is contrary to fairness and the rule of law. That those proposing this change to affect one group of employees have stooped to the drastic step of amending the state constitution, which by its terms currently forbids such a practice, is an admission of the radicalness of such a change to an established rule.

This initiative is the first shot against removing the ability of public employees to collectively bargain for benefits and employment conditions. The stated reason, that such changes are needed for the fiscal health of the employer, can easily be used in the future to remove collective bargaining rights for fair pay, working conditions, or any area where the employer is restricted in imposing employment conditions. However, it doesn’t end with police officers and other public employees. If the contractual rights of one group can no longer be protected, what contractual rights will out-of-state billionaires next decide should no longer be protected by the California Constitution?

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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