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A project we all need to support

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/04/2011 @ 10:47 AM

The news out of City Hall is bleak. Budget officials there are now reporting that Los Angeles' financial prospects are worse than expected, with a projected shortfall growing to $200 million next year.

In this difficult economic environment, in addition to ensuring adequate funding for public safety, the League’s advocacy efforts are focused on helping to accelerate economic recovery. We strongly support companies that create jobs and green growth. Over the last several years, we’ve advocated for projects that keep our economy strong so the City can have the resources to pay for desperately needed public safety services. We consistently back initiatives promoting public safety and business growth, and those that ensure economic prosperity and improved quality of life for everyone who lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.

The LAPPL is enthusiastically supporting BNSF Railway’s proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, designed to be the greenest intermodal facility in the United States.

BNSF’s $500 million of private investment will allow containers to be loaded onto rail just four miles from the docks, rather than traveling 24 miles on local roads and the 710 freeway to downtown rail facilities. SCIG will allow 1.5 million more containers to move by more efficient and environmentally preferred rail through the Alameda Corridor each year, greatly reducing truck traffic congestion in Southern California.

At the same time, the project will create thousands of good local jobs and remove more than 1.5 million truck trips from the 710 freeway every year, yielding significant benefits for local and regional air quality and relieving traffic congestion. In building SCIG, BNSF will clean up an existing industrial site and replace it with a state of the art facility featuring wide-span all-electric cranes, ultra-low-emission switching locomotives and low-emission rail yard equipment.

According to IHS Global Insight forecasts, the facility will create 22,000 new direct and indirect jobs in Southern California by 2036, including 14,000 jobs in Los Angeles. Approximately 1,500 jobs annually (direct and secondary) could be added to the regional economy during the construction phase. BNSF is in the process of finalizing a Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council for construction of SCIG. The company has also committed to creating a local jobs training program and offering priority hiring for new jobs to qualified local job applicants.

Today’s tough economic climate demands that City Hall prioritize and fast track good projects like SCIG that will help our region build a "green" economy, create new jobs and promote public safety.

We encourage everyone to take a close look at the project by viewing BNSF’s informational video or visiting BNSFConnects.com. As part of the environmental review process, we hope you will join us in submitting comments for the official record to the Port of Los Angeles by December 22, 2011, to Christopher Cannon, Director of Environmental Management. Your comments will be included in the Final Environmental Impact Report.

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

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Disregarding state law proves deadly – again

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/27/2011 @ 03:35 PM

Armando Jimenez, 13, and his sister, Ashley Jimenez, 7, stop to look at the memorial site for 4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe.
Christopher Chung / PD

Armando Jimenez, 13, and his sister, Ashley Jimenez, 7, stop to look at the memorial site for 4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe. (Christopher Chung / PD)

In April we warned of the danger of disregarding the State Vehicle Code requirement to impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers. We still believe now, as we did then, that police department policies that flout the code threaten drivers’ safety and pose significant liability risks to cash-strapped cities.

Our fears about this practice were recently realized in Santa Rosa, California, but it could just as easily happen in Los Angeles. According to a story in Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat, the police department in that city put an officer in the difficult position of having to decide whether or not to impound unlicensed driver Marcos Lopez Garcia’s car. The car was not impounded, and as the story reports, it is suspected that five days later, the 22-year-old Lopez Garcia was behind the wheel of the vehicle when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash that killed a young boy.

Lopez Garcia was first cited for driving without a license on June 25, 2010, when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. His vehicle was impounded for 30 days, according to police and court records. He was then pulled over for speeding on August 13, 2011, and found again to be driving without a license – a misdemeanor offense. The officer, acting within department policy, did not impound the vehicle and instead allowed a licensed person to retrieve it. Lopez Garcia was cited and ordered not to drive a vehicle. This policy had deadly consequences on Aug. 18 when, as it is suspected, Lopez Garcia plowed through a crosswalk and struck 4-year-old Christopher “Buddy” Rowe.

4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe

4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe

This decision was within department policy, just as it would be at LAPD. A federal court ruled in an Oregon case that law enforcement agencies may not impound a vehicle if the only offense is unlicensed driving. One exception, which we encourage officers to consider, is the “community caretaker” doctrine, which permits law enforcement to impound a car when it poses a threat to public safety, is parked illegally or would be vandalized imminently if left in place.

The value and wisdom of impounding vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers is twofold. First, an unlicensed driver willing to ignore the law is, at least temporarily, less likely to further violate this law because he or she does not have access to the impounded vehicle. Second, the cost and inconvenience of recovering an impounded vehicle discourages people without licenses from driving.

The Santa Rosa tragedy shows that unlicensed drivers are dangerous drivers. Law enforcement agencies throughout California need to think long and hard about the ramifications of policies that allow unlicensed drivers access to vehicles that state law says they may not operate on California streets and highways.

We agree with the comments on the dangers of unlicensed drivers that Chief Charlie Beck made during a discussion about a recent DMV operation that resulted in the arrest of five people suspected of producing and selling fake driver licenses and identification cards. The Chief said that the operation was “a threat to not only public safety, but national security,” and added that the shuttered illegal operation “was putting dangerous drivers on the road and endangering the public.”

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Police increasingly under assault: Join the discussion

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/16/2011 @ 01:36 PM

For several months we’ve been calling attention to the shocking disconnect between declining crime statistics and increasing assaults on police officers. The problem is growing more acute. The most recent statistics released show that violent attacks on LAPD officers are up by 29 percent over the same period last year. A recent Wall Street Journal story numbers this year’s assaults with deadly weapons on LAPD officers at 130.

On the afternoon of August 25, two LAPD officers investigating suspicious activity were fired on without warning, resulting in injury to one of the officers. Later that day, a man wielding a sharpened stick struck an officer who had responded to calls of a disturbance at a Wilmington-area apartment just after 11 p.m. Police shot and killed the suspect. The wounded officer is recovering.

Those attacks were among several since August 19 in which LAPD officers have come under gunfire. In another incident, officers from Rampart Division responding to a report of a disturbance on the night of August 27 were fired on in their unmarked patrol car before the suspect fled on foot. And days before, undercover officers were shot at in Encino on August 21 while confronting double-murder suspect Brent Zubek. Gang officers were shot at in South L.A. on August 19.

Chief Beck, speaking on KPCC, said the rise in violent assaults against the LAPD is of great concern. He said he cannot pinpoint exactly why the crimes are on the rise, but thinks it may have to do with new technology that has helped officers get to crime scenes earlier. "We don't spread police resources like paint, we put them where the crime is," he said.

"One of the things that's happened in Los Angeles is that police, because we've been able to reduce crime and because our information systems are better and our analysis of those are better, we make contact with a lot of people who are intent on committing violent crime and the means to do that," said Beck. "When you engage people at the enforcement level at a greater frequency, then you increase the number of forceful contacts that you have."

Another perspective on this troublesome phenomenon came in a recent USA Today story that reported nearly 40 percent of police officers fatally shot this year have been slain in ambush-style attacks or when they were surprised by suspects with firearms. The killings, many stunning in their brutality, have some law enforcement and Justice Department officials scrambling to provide additional protection or training for their forces, the newspaper reported.

USA Today reported that police officials and analysts say motivations for the killings stem from a wide range of social problems, from mental illness to increased desperation caused by domestic or economic pressures. Former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, now director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services office, said the "collision of stressors" often places officers "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

What is causing the rising number of assaults on police officers in Los Angeles and across the nation? We want to hear what you think is going on and what can be done to lessen the dangers police face every day.

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Getting a handle on liability

By John R. Mumma on 09/08/2011 @ 04:36 PM

The City has a serious liability problem and urgently needs better risk management. In the last fiscal year alone, it has paid out $45 million in liability claims and a total of $140 million in Workers’ Compensation claims. About half of these claims involved LAPD and LAFD personnel.

In an effort to do its part to reduce liability and improve risk management, the LAPD has proposed creating a position within the Department to be in charge of all risk management and liability issues. There is merit to this idea, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

The City has already implemented variations of this approach with no success. Under the City’s current head of risk management, claims have actually skyrocketed. To avoid repeating this failure, the new position must be different.

The position must encompass oversight of liability cases, training, and advising the Chief of Police. More importantly, the position must have teeth. It can be effective only if it is given power and authority to institute changes and hold individuals accountable. If, as under the present system, this person cannot actually implement changes and prevent abuses, the Department will simply have added yet another expensive layer to an already bloated and inefficient bureaucracy.

The League has made a number or recommendations to Councilmember Dennis Zine, chair of the Council’s Audits & Governmental Efficiency Committee.

Our recommendations are that the Risk Management Specialist:

  • Have a substantial background in business or finance with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Have substantial training and experience assessing, identifying and mitigating risk.
  • Have the ability to work with a variety of stakeholders, including the city attorney, a newly created task force and the League.
  • Act as an unbiased intermediary between the Department, the city attorney’s office, and City Council.
  • Report to City Council.

League President Paul M. Weber wrote in a letter to Zine:

The LAPD is a multibillion dollar entity and should be treated as a corporation with comparable payroll and assets. As such, it is suggested that we undertake a nationwide candidate search to ensure that the role is filled by the most qualified candidate available.

We urge the Department and City Council to expedite creation of the recommended position as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing this troublesome and costly issue. The concept is to be applauded. The devil is in the details.

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A new day in California for convicted killers

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/07/2011 @ 04:19 PM

For law-abiding citizens, these are tough economic times. But for convicted killers serving time in California prisons, it’s a time for optimism.

Ian Lovett of the New York Times reported from Los Angeles that the state has upheld 207 of the parole board’s 254 decisions to release convicted killers. To date, more releases dates granted to murderers have been allowed to stand in 2011 than in any other year since California chief executives got the power to reverse them.

Previously, inmates serving life sentences for murder were virtually never set free, noted Lovett. Even on the rare occasions when the parole board granted a release, California’s governors almost invariably overturned it.

So why is it a new day in California for convicted killers who are more likely than ever to be paroled? At least part of the answer, according to the Times story, lies in the U.S. Supreme Court mandate to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

But that is not an acceptable reason for turning murderers loose on society. State government must find less dangerous ways to address prison overcrowding. Like our city government, the state simply must put public safety first.

At the rate the state is going, more than 1,000 convicted killers who should be serving time will be set free, putting residents at increased risk. We urge the governor to use his predecessors as role models when reviewing parole board decisions.

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Death penalty distortions

By Scott Rate on 09/02/2011 @ 01:28 PM

A recent legislative hearing in Sacramento focused on the death penalty and its implementation costs. Ventura County Star writer Timm Herdt reports that no one at the hearing was able to answer a key question: Why are other states like Texas and Virginia able to hand down death sentences and have them upheld through the federal appeals process? Could it be that the high costs of capital punishment in California are not inherent to the penalty, but rather, the result of deliberate and improper delaying by penalty opponents who see the current economic climate as an opportunity to abolish it in California once and for all?

Since passage of Proposition 8 in 1982, the California Supreme Court has been governed by the U.S. Constitution in deciding whether evidence gathered in criminal cases, including death penalty cases, was properly collected and admitted into evidence. The 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court, which also review these death penalty cases, are governed by the same body of law.

Other federal circuit courts, like those with jurisdiction over states such as Texas and Virginia, have no trouble expeditiously deciding death penalty appeals using the exact same law that applies to death penalty cases in California.

If the death penalty system is broken, it is because some key players, including federal judges, defense attorneys and legislators opposed to the death penalty, do everything in their power to hinder and obstruct implementation of the penalty in California. As we mentioned in a previous post, their maneuvers have included failing to provide funding for appellate attorneys and delaying the filing of legal briefs to avoid approving a death penalty verdict.

As we’ve said before, if one were to substitute the 9th Circuit with the 5th or 4th Circuits, which cover Texas and Virginia respectively, we would be seeing a different outcome in California’s death penalty cases pending in federal courts. In addition, if California were to properly fund the death penalty appeals process, it would be shortened dramatically.

Families who’ve lost loved ones to murderous death row inmates, along with the public at large, deserve honest arguments from California’s capital punishment opponents. Citing deliberately inflated costs isn’t one of them.

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Former Enron trader finally revealed as “pension reform” group’s secret funder

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/26/2011 @ 01:05 PM

Many Californians remember with distaste the corrupt Texas energy company Enron, which in 2000 masterminded California energy shortages and blackouts, and shut down pipelines to manipulate the energy market. Now, a former Enron trader who reaped hundreds of millions of dollars working for Enron has at last been revealed as the out-of-state billionaire who is funding efforts to dismantle public pensions in California.

A Sacramento group called Californians for Fiscal Reform (CFFR), headed by Marcia Fritz, has garnered attention with slick but fundamentally flawed reports on California pension systems. Fritz has steadfastly refused, until now, to say who was funding her attacks on public pensions. Now, on the eve of yet another report attacking public pensions, she has revealed her group’s secret benefactor: former Enron trader John D. Arnold, a billionaire Texas resident with no connection to California.

During 2000’s rolling blackouts, Enron CEO Ken Lay boasted to California regulators that his “smart guys” would beat any attempt to stop Enron’s manipulation of the California energy market. After Enron’s collapse, John Arnold used the millions he made there to start a hedge fund trading in natural gas. But his trading business may soon be curbed: just last month, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission imposed new rules on large traders of natural gas out of concerns that speculation in that market rewarded only traders while costing consumers and businesses billions.

Enron was at its core a complete fraud, a company that made millions for itself and its employees through sustained, deliberate and carefully planned accounting fraud. It’s no surprise then, that a “pension reform” group bankrolled by a former Enron trader would gin up reports and use outdated, skewed data to attack public pensions. And the fact that these reports are authored by the man who worked as director of finance for former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t help the group’s credibility.

Considering the Enron connection, we’re also not surprised by the belief by some that CFFR, registered as a 501(c) (3) group, is coming close to violating government restrictions on political activities.

John Arnold himself has refused to comment on his involvement, other than to have a representative say that Arnold’s intrusion into California is just the beginning of his efforts to change public pension systems nationwide. But if Mr. Arnold, through his efforts, insists on affecting the lives of millions of Americans, the least he could do is saunter out from behind the gates of his 20,000-square-foot Houston mansion and explain his reasons to all the “little people.”

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Ten years after 9/11, we remember and reflect

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/26/2011 @ 01:05 PM

A lot has changed in our country since the morning of September 11, 2001; the most noticeable being tightened security at American airports and borders, and a decade of military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through all of it, members of the LAPD family have been involved.

Undoubtedly, each of you vividly remembers the moment you heard about or saw the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the subsequent attack on the Pentagon and the hijacking of Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. It was something our nation had never experienced and something we hope to never see again. It caused panic and confusion and fear, and the loss of life was overwhelming – some 3,000 people in total, including 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 private emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Many who survived experienced physical trauma, and all who were involved experienced mental and emotional trauma. But through all of it, we as a nation survived. We’ve come together in remembrance of those lost and we work diligently to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

This month’s edition of the Thin Blue Line features “Reflections on 9/11: LAPD officers look back on the day that changed America,” a story that shares the experiences of some of the LAPD men and women who answered the “help call” from our brothers and sisters on the East coast in the days and months following 9/11. The editors of the Thin Blue Line sincerely thank each of them for sharing their stories and for exemplifying the brave and kind spirit of the LAPD. As the 10th anniversary of the tragedy approaches, we know many of you will want to share your thoughts regarding that day and offer reflections regarding the America that has emerged in the aftermath. We invite you to share your thoughts below.

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