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Prison closures and parole downsizing to go along with a mass prisoner release?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/19/2011 @ 04:05 PM

We’ve recently learned of plans under consideration that disregard the safety of Californians to such a degree that not only is greater attention warranted, but a prompt explanation is necessary.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the state intends to terminate 841 employees in its parole division by September 2013. According to Jeff Doyle’s reliable parole blog, the state has also drafted plans to close six prisons.

According to reports, in a statewide conference in June, State Parole Director Robert Ambroselli told parole agents throughout California that state officials had created a plan to effectively end parole supervision in California by eliminating 80 percent of field staff. Closure of six prisons would come after completion of “parole redirection” and compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s prison overcrowding ruling.

Some state officials may be using the Court’s order as a smoke screen for their plans, hoping the public will believe the closures and parole cuts are also part of the Court’s mandate. The ruling ordered a reduction in the inmate population, but it did not mandate that prisons be closed or that inmates be freed without supervision.

If the reports are accurate, it is troubling indeed that state leaders would so readily risk hard-won gains in public safety by essentially eliminating supervision of released inmates and unnecessarily closing six of the state’s prisons. These officials should promptly confirm or deny Ambroselli’s statements. Californians are entitled to know what lies ahead for the prison and parole systems, and ultimately, their safety.

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Giving kids an alternative to gangs

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/08/2011 @ 12:24 PM

Crime fighting takes many forms. Patrolling neighborhoods to deter criminal activity and making arrests when crimes do occur are a big part of the job. But increasingly, efforts are underway through community-based policing programs to reach inner-city kids in ways that keep them from becoming easy prey for gangs.

One of the most promising efforts along these lines comes from the LAPD’s Southeast Division, where officers are taking Watts-area kids on surfing trips and to sports events. Already, a marked decline in juvenile arrests has been seen, according to L.A. Times reporter Joel Rubin.

Today, Southeast Division has 13 officers working full time on several community-relations programs — a major commitment of resources in an area of the city that has seen some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Los Angeles. There are some 120 documented gangs in the area, according to the Times story.

Southeast Capt. Phil Tingirides, Officer Scott Burkett and all their colleagues at Southeast Division are to be commended and congratulated for going above and beyond to make a difference in their community. And we thank Joel Rubin for taking notice of their efforts and letting readers of the Times know about this innovative and successful program.

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Parole system’s fatal flaws exposed again by a double murder

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/29/2011 @ 04:14 PM

Computers are a marvelous thing. They store information, churn data and generally make us all more productive. Often, though, there’s a need for human judgment and common sense to interpret a computer’s output.

A case in point is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s computer program, Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument (PVDMI). It’s a blatant cost-cutting measure touted as a reliable way to predict which inmates are “low risk” and “non-violent," and thus eligible for early release from prison with no parole supervision and no notification to local law enforcement.

PVDMI determined that Zachariah Timothy Lehnen fit that category despite a history of arrests for robbery, domestic violence and drugs. As a result, he was released from prison long before his sentence was to end in November 2013. Back on the streets with no parole supervision, Lehnen is accused of murdering Lucien Bergez, 89, and Erica Evelyn Escobar, 27, on May 3, 2011 in Culver City.

Adam Treanor, president of the Culver City Police Officers’ Association, believes the public deserves a supervised release system that is realistic and makes community safety a top priority. “We need a system,” he said, “that empowers law enforcement officers with the ability to re-incarcerate any and all parolees who view their release from prison not as an opportunity to begin a new life as a productive member of society, but merely as a means to return to the very same criminal, predatory behavior that led to their incarceration in the first place.”

We are in complete agreement with Treanor and support his call to overhaul the fatally flawed system we have today. There will always be a need to supervise parolees just as there will also be a need to run a human reality check on the information a computer program puts out. It is, after all, a matter of life and death, as was proven in the case of Zachariah Timothy Lehnen.

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Grim officer-fatality statistics at mid-year

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/25/2011 @ 04:14 PM

As we followed news reports in the first half of 2011, we suspected that law enforcement fatalities were up sharply. Sadly, statistics released this week by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) bear out our worst fears. Ninety-eight law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the first half of this year, up 14 percent over the 86 officers who lost their lives during the same period last year.

Equally alarming is the fact that 40 officers were killed by gunfire, a 33 percent increase over the same period last year, and the highest number in two decades.

As we’ve noted, it is very troublesome that police officer deaths are on the rise while overall crime rates are generally on the decline across the U.S.

NLEOMF Chairman Craig W. Floyd has a plausible theory for what is driving the higher number of line-of-duty deaths. “The economy,” he says, “has forced reductions in training, safety equipment and personnel at law enforcement agencies across America. These budget cuts have put our officers at greater risk, especially as they face a more brazen, cold-blooded criminal element and a continuing terrorist threat.” Last year, nearly 70 percent of police agencies cut back or eliminated training, according to a survey of 608 departments conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank.

In addition to the 40 officers killed by gunfire, 21 died in automobile crashes; 16 succumbed to job-related illnesses; seven were struck by automobiles while outside of their own vehicles; five were killed in motorcycle crashes; two were struck by a train; one officer died in an aircraft crash; one was beaten to death; one was electrocuted; one died in a fall; one was killed in a bomb blast; one was crushed to death; and one was strangled. The average age of the officers who have died in 2011 is 41. On average, they served for 13 years and eight of the officers who died were women.

These are sobering statistics and serve as a reminder that police officers work in a dangerous world. A death in the law enforcement family is felt deeply by everyone in the public safety profession, regardless of where it occurred. As we reflect on the grim statistics for the first half of 2011, let us resolve to do everything possible to protect ourselves and our colleagues from the dangers we face every day in our profession.

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California’s Willie Horton?

By on 07/22/2011 @ 03:26 PM


Zackariah Lehnen, a 31-year-old transient, has been charged with two counts of murder in the case involving the deaths of Lucien Bergez and Erica Escobar.

We all remember the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 1974 killing of a 17-year-old gas station attendant. In 1986, Horton was released under Massachusetts’ weekend furlough program but never returned. Ultimately, he committed assault, armed robbery and rape. The case was a classic example of the risks behind the early release of prisoners likely to commit serious crimes.

Almost a quarter of a century later, we have the case of Zackariah Lehnen, a 30-year-old transient paroled from a California prison after serving only five months of a 16-month sentence for drug possession. As recounted by Bloomberg reporter Christopher Palmeri, a program to reduce costs by freeing “nonviolent” prisoners without supervision allowed Lehnen to leave prison in November 2010.

A month after his release, Lehnen was in a state court in Beverly Hills pleading no contest to assault charges. Although he was on parole at the time and had prior convictions for spousal battery and drug possession, Lehnen was released again, unsupervised, on Dec. 23, as court records reported by Bloomberg show.

Six months later Lehnen was arrested and charged with murder in the torture and stabbing deaths of an 89-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman in a Los Angeles suburb. He is in jail with a plea hearing set for July 28.

Former military prosecutor and now Democratic state senator from Torrance Ted Lieu told Palmeri in a phone interview, “It’s a perfect example of what goes wrong when you prioritize saving money over public safety,” adding that Lehnen is an example of how the state’s system for sorting inmates by the risks they pose can fail.

Sen. Lieu gets it. We’ve been calling attention to this issue for well over two years. How many Zackariah Lehnens are needed to convince our elected leaders that the unsupervised early release of prisoners to save money is poor prioritization of public funds and a danger to society?

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Mourning the loss of three Southern California police officers

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/21/2011 @ 02:42 PM

Officer Brian Hayes, 35, of the Anaheim Police Department.

Officer Brian Hayes, 35, of the Anaheim Police Department.

Officer Nicole Anderson, 32, of the Simi Valley Police Department.

Officer Nicole Anderson, 32, of the Simi Valley Police Department.

Officer Ryan Stringer, 26, of the Alhambra Police Department

Officer Ryan Stringer, 26, of the Alhambra Police Department.

We mourn the recent tragic deaths of three officers from different police departments in Southern California.

Brian Hayes, 35, of the Anaheim Police Department and Nicole Anderson, 32, of the Simi Valley Police Department, were killed in the crash of a small airplane in Arizona on July 16. They were the only passengers aboard the single-engine plane that went down during takeoff at Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport in Arizona.

Officer Hayes had been a police explorer and reserve officer before being hired by the Anaheim Police Department in 1999. He worked patrol for the department. Officer Anderson started with the Simi Valley Police Department in 2003. In her career, she worked as a bicycle officer, a member of the department’s crisis negotiation team, and most recently, the department’s youth services officer.

Only days before, on July 10, 26-year-old Alhambra Police Officer Ryan Stringer was killed in the line of duty when his patrol car collided with another police vehicle while responding to a robbery-in-progress call. His colleague in the other vehicle was briefly hospitalized.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and colleagues of Officers Hayes, Anderson and Stringer during their time of grieving.

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9th Circuit racks up a high reversal rate

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/19/2011 @ 04:52 PM

An L.A. Times news story today backed up our most recent post, which highlighted one of the major impediments to implementation of the death penalty in California: 9th Circuit judges who are basing their decisions not on the law but on their personal views.

In her story, “U.S. Supreme Court again rejects most decisions by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” L.A. Times staff writer Carol J. Williams reports:

The Supreme Court reversed or vacated 19 of the 26 decisions it looked at from the 9th Circuit this judicial term, issuing especially pointed critiques of the court's handling of cases involving prisoners' rights and death row reprieves.

Although the proportion of reversals was relatively in line with past years and other appellate circuits across the country, the 9th Circuit was often out of step even with the high court's liberal justices, who joined with the conservatives in 12 unanimous rulings.

In their reversals, the justices often expressed impatience with what they see as stubborn refusal by the lower court to follow Supreme Court precedent.

In short, the Supreme Court of the United States judged the 9th Circuit’s performance and found a continual refusal to follow precedent; it made pointed critiques of the 9th Circuit’s handling of death penalty cases, and determined that 9th Circuit opinions ran counter to established law. The only redeeming quality of the 9th Circuit’s decisions, perhaps, is that they succeeded in uniting a sometimes bitterly divided U.S. Supreme Court – 12 of the 19 reversals were unanimous!

When we hear California State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and other death penalty opponents disingenuously argue for an end to the death penalty in California on the grounds that it is too costly, we point to the 9th Circuit’s behavior as one of the principal reasons for those escalating costs. As we asked in our last post, is there any doubt that the death penalty here would be carried out more expeditiously if California were under the jurisdiction of the 5th Circuit, which honors the rule of law?

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Initiative to abolish death penalty is a red herring

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/11/2011 @ 01:05 PM

In a predictable but no less galling move, death penalty opponents are seizing on the current state fiscal crisis as the latest reason to end the death penalty in California. Having failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that the death penalty is unconstitutional, failed to convince voters it is immoral, failed to stop executions with attacks on lethal injections, opponents are now trying a different track. State Senator Loni Hancock has introduced a bill advancing the latest argument by opponents who steadfastly cling to only one principle – preventing execution by any means necessary.

Citing the death penalty’s financial cost to try to stop it is, frankly, an offensive argument. It is precisely penalty opponents in the Legislature and on the federal bench who have caused the cost to climb because of their deliberate – and to be blunt – dishonest efforts to thwart executions.

On average, five years pass before appellate counsel is appointed to death row inmates, and at least another five years pass before their first appeal is heard. These delays happen because death penalty opponents in the Legislature refuse to authorize market-rate pay for the attorneys, thereby creating a shortage of appellate lawyers for these cases. The Legislature also refuses to consider having California Appellate Courts hear the appeals, ensuring a lengthy wait before the backlogged California Supreme Court hears the appeal.

There is also the duplicity of the penalty’s fervent opponents who populate the federal bench in California and on the 9th Circuit. Five years have passed since Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel halted executions. Fogel issued a stay for Michael Morales because he objected to the qualifications of the staff administering injections. His indefinite hold on executions remains while he continues to mull whether the newly constructed execution chamber and new injection procedures meet his approval. Perhaps Senator Hancock could let us know the costs that have accrued while Judge Fogel takes his time to make a decision.

Finally, we have the 9th Circuit, a collection of judges who’ve repeatedly attempted to thwart executions in California. Who can forget the farce that was the execution of Robert Alton Harris, the first inmate executed since resumption of the death penalty? Four separate Justices of the 9th Circuit issued last-minute stays, each sequentially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which was then forced to issue an unprecedented order that the 9th Circuit have no further involvement in the case. Perhaps Senator Hancock could tally the costs associated with that case, too.

More recent evidence of the depths to which the 9th Circuit will sink to block executions can be found in the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Wong v. Belmontes. The U.S. Supreme Court, for a third time, overturned a 9th Circuit reversal of the death penalty for Belmontes. The unanimous Supreme Court pointedly called out the 9th Circuit for its latest decision, which the Supreme Court wrote, had suddenly “changed its view of the evidence.” Perhaps Senator Hancock can let us know the cost of the bogus appeals in the Belmontes case as well.

We refuse to stand by silently when, as outlined above, death penalty opponents deliberately drive up the cost of implementing the death penalty, and then cite cost as a reason to stop executions. There is no doubt that cost and delay would no longer be an issue if we could substitute the Justices of the 5th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas) for the 9th Circuit and have a legislature that would adequately fund the appeals process.

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