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Déjà vu for the 9th Circuit

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/15/2012 @ 11:14 AM

It’s shaping up to be another tough year for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. After being reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 19 out of the 26 cases it reviewed in 2011, the trend appears to continue in 2012 to the benefit of police.

Last month, the Supreme Court threw out yet another 9th Circuit decision. This time the high court ruled that California officers could not be sued over using a possibly defective warrant to search a home. The case involved L.A. County Sheriff’s Detective Curt Messerschmidt and other police officials who were sued by Augusta Millender for the search on her house and confiscation of her shotgun.

According to reports, police were looking for her foster son, Jerry Ray Bowen, who had recently shot at ex-girlfriend Shelly Kelly with a sawed-off shotgun. Kelly told police Bowen might be at his foster mother’s house, so Messerschmidt obtained a warrant to look for any weapons and gang-related material on the property (Bowen was a suspected member of two local gangs). The detective’s supervisors, the district attorney and a judge all approved the warrant.

Neither Bowen nor his shotgun were found at Millender’s house, but police confiscated a shotgun belonging to the now deceased 73-year-old Millender. She sued, claiming the warrant was constitutionally overbroad because police had no right to look for any weapon at her house other than the one Bowen had used to shoot at his ex-girlfriend. Millender also argued that because the shooting was a domestic incident, police had no right to look for gang-material at her house. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court agreed, saying Messerschmidt and other officers should have known the warrant was overbroad and would therefore lose the immunity that police are normally granted against such lawsuits.

The Supreme Court overturned that decision on a 6-3 vote. This latest rebuke of the 9th Circuit came only one month after it was overruled in a case involving Burbank police officers responding to a reported rumor of a student threatening a school shooting.

Our judicial system of checks and balances is worthy of admiration and respect, especially in its ability to uphold the rights of law enforcement professions to carry out their job while safeguarding citizens' rights. We are grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court for another decision that recognizes the challenging and demanding work police officers in America face every day.

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

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The importance of City Council committees

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/14/2012 @ 02:48 PM

When most people think about the L.A. City Council, they think of its regular meetings at City Hall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. (televised on L.A. CityView 35). What many don’t realize is that by the time an issue is ready for consideration by the 15-member Council, it’s already been reviewed and analyzed by one or more city council committees.

Not as visible as the City Council in session but crucial to the governing of our city, these committees perform investigative duties for the full Council and issue recommendations. The committee meetings are not generally televised but can be heard live and from the audio archives via Council Phone. Council Phone is a dial-up system that allows the public to listen to live coverage of the Los Angeles City Council and its committees from any phone using these numbers: Downtown (213) 621-CITY, West Los Angeles (310) 471-CITY, San Pedro (310) 547-CITY and Van Nuys (818) 904-9450.

The committees, and their chairs, are appointed by the President of the Council. When Councilmember Eric Garcetti resigned from the council presidency to run for Mayor, the Council elected Herb Wesson as his successor. Council President Wesson recently announced the committee assignments for 2012:

  • Arts, Parks, Health and Aging: Alarcon, chair; LaBonge, vice chair; Reyes, member.
  • Audits and Governmental Efficiency: Zine, chair; Rosendahl, vice chair; LaBonge, member.
  • Budget and Finance: Krekorian, chair; Englander, vice chair; Cardenas, and Koretz, Rosendahl, members.
  • Education and Neighborhoods: Parks, chair; Perry, vice chair; Zine, member.
  • Energy and Environment: Huizar, chair; Zine, vice chair; Cardenas, Alarcon, and Koretz, members.
  • Housing, Community and Economic Development: Cardenas, chair; Reyes, vice chair; Wesson, Alarcon, and Perry, members.
  • Information Technology and General Services: Perry, chair; Buscaino, vice chair; Cardenas, member.
  • Jobs and Business Development: Garcetti, chair; Parks, vice chair; LaBonge, member.
  • Personnel and Animal Welfare: Koretz, chair; Alarcon, vice chair; Zine, member.
  • Planning and Land Use Management: Reyes, chair; Huizar, vice chair; Englander, member.
  • Public Safety: Englander, chair; Perry, vice chair; Buscaino, Krekorian, and Zine, members.
  • Public Works: Buscaino, chair; Krekorian, vice chair; Garcetti, member.
  • Rules and Elections: Wesson, chair; LaBonge, vice chair; Huizar, member.
  • Trade, Commerce and Tourism: LaBonge, chair; Rosendahl, vice chair; Buscaino, member.
  • Transportation: Rosendahl, chair; Koretz, vice chair; Parks, LaBonge, and Huizar, members.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League’s Board of Directors looks forward to working with each member of the City Council and the council committees in 2012 in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

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

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Disregarding state law continues to prove deadly

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/10/2012 @ 02:23 PM

Once again, a driver with a suspended driver's license, whose vehicle was returned to her by the California Highway Patrol, continued to drive and subsequently killed several people. On Friday, Feb. 3, at the corner of Florence and Halldale avenues, Moreno Valley resident Tenina Calhoun, stopped one month earlier for unlicensed driving, killed three of her passengers in a crash. Because her vehicle had not been impounded for 30-days on the prior stop, Calhoun was driving that same car in Friday’s crash.

On that same day, two Los Angeles police officers were injured when an unlicensed driver in Jefferson Park hit their patrol car. And on Saturday, a Long Beach police officer on his way to an unlicensed/DUI driver checkpoint was hit by an unlicensed driver.

How many tragedies is it going to take before those clamoring for a stop to unlicensed-driver vehicle impoundment admit they’re wrong? In September, we highlighted the story of an unlicensed driver whose vehicle was not impounded and who five days later, was behind the wheel of the vehicle that killed a young boy in a hit-and-run crash.

The legislature passed the impound law allowing the impoundment of vehicles operated by unlicensed drivers as a public safety measure. Unlicensed drivers have either not proven they know how to operate a motor vehicle safely, or were previously licensed drivers who had their driving privilege revoked because of moving violations.

Allowing unlicensed drivers to have a vehicle returned to them will only encourage them to continue driving, and increase the danger for others. The deaths of Tenina Calhoun’s passengers are yet another tragic reminder of that.

Blog updated with new information February 10 at 2200 hours.

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

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Proposed changes to impound policy don’t conform to the law

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/07/2012 @ 03:06 PM

The Los Angeles Police Protective League’s objections to the latest proposed changes to the LAPD 30-day hold policy are twofold: the Chief’s proposal does not conform to state law and unlicensed drivers are unsafe drivers.

Unlicensed driving is a crime in California, and Vehicle Code Section 14602.6, which calls for vehicles to be impounded for up to 30 days, is part of the penalty structure the state legislature established for punishment of unlicensed driving. When lawmakers created the 30-day hold law, they were very clear with their intent and in fact, the legislature’s findings make it clear that the law was enacted to prevent damage to lives and property by unlicensed drivers.

In creating his own law, Chief Beck is asking officers to use a “progressive penalty” and only impound vehicles for one day using Vehicle Code § 22651(p). The purpose of this Vehicle Code is simply to allow officers to quickly remove vehicles from the streets; it was not intended to address unlicensed drivers.

Click here to voice your opposition to any changes to the current policy that keeps the roads safer.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles led a pair of studies in the 1990s that found unlicensed drivers were nearly five times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than licensed drivers. Impounding vehicles, the DMV concluded, was an effective way to keep unlicensed drivers off the road. Two nationwide studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that between 13 to 14 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes did not have a valid license at the time.

Our concern is for the safety of residents on the streets of Los Angeles. Returning cars to unlicensed drivers, who already have shown their willingness to disregard the law by driving when they are lawfully forbidden to, is simply bad public policy and not what the legislature intended.

We hope you share our concern for the safety of our roads, and that you’ll take a moment to contact your Los Angeles elected officials and ask them to reconsider this policy change for the sake of the public’s safety.

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

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Paycheck protection or political power grab?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/06/2012 @ 03:31 PM

Once again, a ballot initiative purporting to curb the influence of unions and corporations on elected officials has qualified for California’s November ballot. The initiative, pitched by proponents as the “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,” would ban corporate and labor union contributions to candidates. More significantly, it would also prohibit corporations and labor unions from using funds collected through payroll deductions to be used for political purposes, hence “protecting” employees’ paychecks.

Similar initiatives specifically directed at labor unions were rejected by California voters in 1998 and 2005. But this time around, the initiative’s backers are hoping to sway voters by including corporations in the ban, disingenuously implying that prohibitions that impact all entities will impact them equally. This is misleading and ignores the reality of how unions and corporations currently participate in the political process.

Corporations very rarely use employee paycheck deductions to fund political contributions. Labor unions, on the other hand, rely on paycheck deductions as the primary means for political fundraising. The initiative would cut off the lion’s share of union fundraising while limiting only a negligible amount of corporate funds. The California School Employees Association has put together a fantastic fact sheet that explains how the paycheck deception initiative would silence the voices of public employees and increase the power of big corporations.

The League is joining public safety organizations and other labor forces throughout the state to oppose this measure. In the coming months, you will be hearing a lot more about this issue. We urge you to educate yourself on the deceptively worded initiative so you understand what is at stake. Labor fought and won this battle twice before and together we can defeat this paycheck deception measure once again.

On November 6, vote NO on the “Stop Special Interest Money Now” Act.

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

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Why are we surprised by good news?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/02/2012 @ 03:14 PM

It turns out that its pension funds performed well enough last year to save the City $90 million in anticipated contributions.

The cries of alarm from self-proclaimed experts looking to eliminate public pensions have been inversely proportional to the depth of the 2008 market collapse: the lower the market went, the louder their calls for ending public pensions became. Continuing to fund public pensions would lead to bankruptcy, they constantly claimed.

Yet, as actuaries and trustees have repeatedly explained, pension systems operate and invest over a long period of time. There are periodic upticks in the market, which in the past have been misused to grant “pension holidays” that allowed governments to skip their required annual payments. Likewise, there have been down times in the market, which have necessitated larger contributions.

As the League has pointed out many times before, skipped payments in good market times not only deprive the pension funds of principal necessary to generate investment returns, but also exacerbate the depth of a downturn since there is less money in the fund to cushion losses. The City’s sworn personnel are never allowed to skip their contribution payments–in good times or bad. But today’s self-styled “pension reformers” were deathly silent as the government shirked its pension obligations, which helped create the current problems of other pension systems.

A 7.75 percent long-term rate of return is sustainable in a well-diversified institutional plan that invests its assets for the long term. The long-term performance of the Los Angeles Fire and Police pension plan has validated this assumption. As for contributions by the City of Los Angeles, it is also important to point out that the percentage of the general fund paid into the pension system is within the historical range of what the City has paid, in good times and bad.

The news of this $90 million pension savings is a reminder that the funded status of pension systems ebbs and flows, as do the City’s corresponding contributions. Any proposed changes to pension systems need to be mindful of this fact, especially when affecting such an important benefit that provides security in retirement.

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

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A setback for police as Supreme Court reins in GPS tracking

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 01/27/2012 @ 12:33 PM

Photo: CBS News

Photo: CBS News

It’s no secret that GPS tracking devices have been hot sellers of late to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Local, state and federal officials have used them in countless investigations, and their use in solving crimes has proven efficient and effective.

But alas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police need a warrant before they can put a GPS tracking device on an individual’s vehicle to covertly track the person. The high court’s unanimous ruling – a setback for law enforcement at all levels – was surprising. Attaching such a small device to a car’s undercarriage did not seem to rise to a violation of property rights, nor did it seem unreasonable for anyone driving on a public street to expect their movements to go unmonitored.

The case that brought the issue to a head involved a Washington man convicted on drug charges with the benefit of evidence collected by GPS tracking. One justice wrote in the court’s opinion that investigators trespassed when they attached the device to the man’s jeep and collected 28 days’ worth of data. Another wrote in a separate opinion that the four weeks of monitoring violated the man’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

In its argument before the court last year, the Obama Administration laid out a compelling rationale for allowing the use of GPS technology in this manner. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreben asserted that police should not need to obtain a warrant because location information could have been obtained through ordinary surveillance methods. Anyone could track anyone – even Supreme Court Justices – without violating their privacy, he argued.

If there’s a bright spot in the decision, it’s that the ruling is narrow and leaves open some key issues in our new digital world. For example, the ruling provided no clear guidance on whether the government must obtain a warrant for access to such things as location data stored on an individual’s smartphone, or to emails archived by internet service providers.

The advance of technology is outpacing the courts. It’ll take many more cases and Supreme Court rulings to arrive at the exact restrictions criminal investigations must adhere to in their use of innovative technology. We can only hope that over time the right balance will be struck between citizens’ rights and law enforcement’s ability to use the latest technology to solve crimes in the most effective and efficient manner.

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

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High court decision backs law enforcement

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 01/24/2012 @ 04:45 PM

What do you call a federal court that changes facts to fit its argument and issues rulings so far outside established law that it’s routinely chastised and reversed – often unanimously and without a hearing – by a higher court? You might call that court lawless and reckless, but here in California we know it as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The latest reversal of the 9th Circuit involved Burbank police officers responding to a reported rumor of a student threatening a school shooting. Officers went to the home of the student, who’d been absent from school for two weeks, and were met by his mother and the student. She spoke to them outside the house but refused to invite the officers inside. When they asked if there were guns in the house, the mother turned and fled inside. The alarmed officers followed her inside, where they proceeded to interview her and the student for about 10 minutes before determining the school shooting threat was unfounded. No search of the residence was conducted.

The family sued the officers for entering the house without a warrant. The District Court found that the officers had qualified immunity because they faced a “rapidly evolving incident.” But last year, the 9th Circuit reversed this in a 2-1 decision, finding the officers’ actions unreasonable.

In an unsigned, unanimous opinion that was a stinging reversal of the 9th Circuit, the United States Supreme Court ordered that the case against the officers be dismissed. The Supreme Court first took the 9th Circuit to task for misapplying case law, writing, “No decision of this Court has found a Fourth Amendment violation on facts even roughly comparable to those present in this case. On the contrary, some of our opinions may be read as pointing in the opposition direction.”

The Court then went on to call out the 9th Circuit for changing the facts in the case to fit its legal conclusion: “Although the panel majority purported to accept the findings of the District Court, it changed those findings in several key respects.” The court concluded by rebuking the 9th Circuit for its “entirely unrealistic” analysis of the incident and its “second guessing” of the officers.

In 2011, the 9th Circuit was reversed in 19 out of 26 cases, with 12 of the reversals being unanimous. Some quotes from recent U.S. Supreme Court reversals highlight the lawlessness of the 9th Circuit: one decision was termed “as inexplicable as it is unexplained;” in another, the factual assertions by the 9th Circuit were “simply false”; and in a third, it was found that the 9th Circuit’s opinion undermined confidence because “judicial disregard is inherent in the opinion of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here under review.”

It is troubling when a reversal is unanimous because it is a clear sign that legal precedent was completely ignored.

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

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