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The perfect storm for a public safety crisis

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/22/2009 @ 12:10 PM

On February 28, 1997, Emil Matasareanu (left) and Larry Phillips Jr. (right) robbed a bank in North Hollywood and triggered one of the most notorious crime shootouts in history. Heavily armored, the two were able to withstand an estimated 650 rounds from police for 44 minutes, while responding with over 1,000 rounds, before being killed. The incident led to a state law banning possession of body armor by anyone with a violent felony conviction.

Criminals are packing more heat,” proclaimed a USA Today headline of December 16th.  The story – based on a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum – confirmed the trend many law enforcement professions have witnessed in recent years:  Criminals are increasingly choosing high-powered firearms as their weapons of choice.

Little did we know when we read that story the added significance and urgency it would take on within the same week, when the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles overturned a 1998 California law that bans possession of body armor by anyone with a violent felony conviction. Incredibly, the court ruled the law unconstitutional because supposedly the average person wouldn't be able to decipher which types of bulletproof vests are prohibited.  As articulated in our press release “Police officers in danger because of court ruling,” the LAPPL is dismayed and outraged by the court's decision.

The origin of this completely common-sense law was a pair of high-profile cases in California in the 1990s – the killing of San Francisco Police Officer James Guelff, murdered by a robber wearing full body armor, and the infamous North Hollywood shootout that saw 11 LAPD officers and six civilians wounded during a prolonged exchange of gunfire with two bank robbers wearing head-to-toe assembled body armor. 

Nearly 40% of police departments surveyed in the USA Today article reported an uptick in the use of assault weapons. In addition, half reported increases in the use of 9mm, .40-caliber and 10mm handguns in crimes. USA Today said the data offered one of the broadest indications of officers' concerns about the armed threat from criminals involved in murder, assault and other weapons-related offenses.

Now factor in the pending early release of tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons and we have the ingredients of a public safety crisis of unprecedented proportions. It is a somber and disturbing way to end 2009, and it heightens our concern over what police officers will face on the job in 2010. 

What's needed now is bold and swift action by public officials to ensure appropriate laws are in place and enforced, and criminals remain in prison to complete their sentences.

We have requested that Attorney General Brown immediately appeal the 2nd District Court’s decision and will be carefully watching other cases that affect law enforcement job safety – in what is already a dangerous profession, we can’t hand criminals the tools they need to protect themselves while attacking our officers.

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Misguided federal priorities hurt law enforcement

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/15/2009 @ 11:38 AM

California is being especially hard hit by cuts to an important federal program that reimburses state and local governments for the cost of jailing criminal illegal immigrants. The annual appropriations bill recently agreed to by the U.S. House and Senate reduces funding for the State Criminal Assistance Program by more than 18 percent.  

This is a prime example of misguided government priorities.  At a time when billions of our tax dollars are being diverted to bailout and stimulus programs with dubious results, Congress cuts a program with an obvious public benefit – housing criminals who should not be on the streets (and who wouldn’t even be in this country if the feds were protecting the integrity of our borders).  This program should have been expanded, especially at a time when California and other border states are facing severe budget pressures. Indeed, a strong argument can be made for the federal government picking up the entire cost of incarcerating undocumented criminal immigrants – estimated at $1 billion a year in California alone – since state and local governments are not making federal immigration policy and are not responsible for securing the border.

The reductions to this already underfunded program increases costs to local governments across the country, at a time when they are already struggling from reduced revenues. Such a burden could ultimately cost jobs in local law enforcement agencies and will impact local public safety.

Nearly 25 percent of LA County’s inmates are undocumented immigrants, costing the county about $95 million a year.  Last year, the federal government reimbursed LA County just $15 million and this year the reimbursement will be cut to about $12 million.  Statewide, California will take an estimated $70 million hit, further worsening the state budget crisis. And we know what happens when the state has to cut its budget: County and cities see proportionate cuts in the monies they receive from the state.

In recent weeks, state officials and local congressmen Jerry Lewis and Howard P. Buck McKeon lobbied to increase aid to the states for the program. Sadly, their efforts failed.

We were hoping to see California begin to cash in on its purported increased clout in Washington this year.  That didn’t happen on this issue and we are hard pressed to understand why. 

Now would be a good time for the California Congressional delegation to regroup and figure out how to be more effective on critical issues that could help our state and local governments through tough times.

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System failure: One release, three murders

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/11/2009 @ 10:54 PM

(Photo: LA Times)

When LAPD officer responded to a call in Venice Tuesday night, they found Eun Kang, a 38-year-old woman who was four months pregnant with twins, stabbed to death, and the alleged attacker, a 22-year-old man, standing in her apartment.

The man they arrested, Boneetio Kentro Washington, has been charged with three counts of capital murder with the special circumstances of multiple murders, murder during a rape and murder during a burglary, in addition to separate rape charges. At 11:30 a.m. this morning, civil rights leader Earl Ofari Hutchinson and others will pay tribute to Ms. Kang, and call on parole and probation officials to toughen their procedures on the release of criminals deemed mentally incompetent who have been convicted of serious felony crimes.

“The alleged assailant of Ms. Kang was a former convicted felon with serious mental problems,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President of Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, and Eddie Jones, President of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association, in a statement released prior their news conference in Venice this morning. “Yet, he was released. State officials must immediately re-examine their policies on the release of convicted felons with serious mental challenges.”

The LAPPL applauds Hutchinson and Jones for condemning lax probation and parole policies and decisions that pose a clear and present threat to public safety in our city. We again urge officials to use all available means to halt the early release of inmates from state prisons beginning in 2010.

Los Angeles Times reporters Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi today recounted Washington’s criminal background and the probation that allowed him move freely about Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Washington had previous arrests for burglary and trespassing in Santa Monica and Los Angeles and misdemeanor trespassing arrests in Rhode Island and North Carolina. But nothing in his past appeared to show a predisposition to the kind of violence that occurred in the Venice slaying, according to sources familiar with the case who asked not to be identified because the investigation was continuing.

Court records show that Washington previously pleaded no contest to one count of residential burglary that was committed in Los Angeles in December 2008. The case was delayed after a doctor testified that Washington was not mentally competent to stand trial. Washington was committed to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County on July 7, 2009.

On Sept. 18, Washington returned to court with a certification from the facility that he was mentally cabable of standing trial.

Boneetio Kentro Washington is suspected of raping and fatally stabbing Eun Kang Tuesday night in Venice. (Photo: LA Times)

He pleaded no contest to first-degree residential burglary and was placed on formal probation before his release from custody for previous time served and credit for work and good behavior.

Sadly, this murder just proves again the case we have been making for months now: the budget-driven decision to provide early releases to criminals has, and will continue, to result in tragedy.

We call upon the community to speak out to our political leadership regarding these continued public safety failures and put a stop to any plans to a mass release of convicted felons from our state prisons.

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The looming public safety crisis: If the cops aren’t safe, no one is

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/08/2009 @ 04:19 PM

Officers move into position to stand watch at the caskets of four slain Lakewood police officers before the December 8th memorial service at the Tacoma Dome. (Photo: Seattle Times)

Nothing reminds us more starkly that releasing felons early from prison sentences will result in tragedy than the murder of those responsible for upholding the law.  In March of this year, a parolee murdered four Oakland police officers.  Less than two weeks ago, a parolee from Arkansas who relocated to Washington brutally killed four officers there.  And, now scarcely a week after those murders, a parolee still wearing his monitoring bracelet gunned down a Penn Hill, Pennsylvania officer.

There is a looming public safety crisis in California – the release of tens of thousands of inmates from California prisons. On Monday, lawyers for California’s prison inmates filed court papers supporting a plan to reduce the prison population by nearly 40,000 over the next two years.  Republican legislators continue to oppose much of the plan.  In separate court filings, they have challenged the intervention of a three-judge federal panel, saying the court is overstepping its authority.

No one knows what will happen next.  The judges calling for lowering the prison population to reduce alleged overcrowding in the state’s 33 prisons could accept or reject the governor’s plan or schedule a hearing on it.  However, what is abundantly clear from the judges’ past comments is that they could care less about the danger to the average citizen from their plan.  It is the convicted felon who has the sweet spot in their hearts.

Thankfully, Governor Schwarzenegger and Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate have made it clear that they will appeal the panel’s final order, no matter what it says, to the Supreme Court.  They insist – and we agree – that the Prison Litigation Reform Act does not empower the panel to dictate the state’s prison policies.

The safety of the public should be paramount and the will of the people, as evidenced in this state through legislation such as “Three Strikes,” should be upheld by the courts. 

The governor, the legislature and courts all need to get on the same page on this issue. Early release of prisoners is dangerous and represents an unacceptable risk to society.  It shouldn’t take the continual murder of police officers to drive this point home.

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The shocking surge in police killings

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/30/2009 @ 01:05 PM

The four slain officers, from left: Greg Richards, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Mark Renninger. (From the Associated Press)

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend ended tragically for the nation and the law enforcement community when four officers from the Lakewood (Wash.) Police Department were executed by a lone gunman as they worked on their laptops in a coffee shop prior to reporting for duty Sunday morning.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and colleagues of the slain Lakewood officers and the Washington law enforcement community.

This horrific and targeted ambush comes less than a month after Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was shot to death and another officer wounded as they sat in a parked patrol car. The suspect in that case also allegedly firebombed four police vehicles in a maintenance yard nine days earlier.

Everyone, law enforcement and community members alike, should be alarmed when those whose job it is to fight crime on a daily basis are being targeted and slain. After falling to their lowest level in nearly five decades in 2008, line-of-duty deaths among U.S. law enforcement officers are suddenly on the rise. The latest data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows 66 officers died in the line of duty between January 1 and June 30, 2009, compared with 55 deaths during the first six months of 2008.

We are outraged that the suspect in these killings is a parolee who nine years ago had a 95-year sentence commuted by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and was subsequently released by the Arkansas Parole Board. This is the second time in less than a year that four police officers have been murdered by a convicted felon freed on parole.

With California poised to embark on a mass release of convicted felons from state prison, we implore our state political leaders to seek alternative ways of cutting the state budget. Surely, the murders of four Lakewood police officers, four Oakland police officers and other murders by parolees – such as the recent tragedy of Lily Burk – should cause the idea of a mass release of parolees in California to be abandoned.

On behalf of the more than 9,900 officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Protective League extends its deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the Lakewood Police Department officers killed Sunday. For information on making donations to assist the officers’ families, visit the Lakewood Police Independent Guild’s website at www.lpig.us.

To our officers in the field, there has never been a more urgent time for police officers everywhere to remain vigilant – please be careful, even while performing the most routine duties.

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The LAPD Purple Heart: A great tradition is born

By Brian Johnson on 11/25/2009 @ 10:23 AM

Chief Beck recently presented the first LAPD Purple Heart, launching an important new tradition for the Department.

The Purple Heart was presented to Margie Gillen, the widow of Commander Paul Gillen, who was killed in a 1974 Department helicopter crash during a SWAT training exercise. The presentation was made during a ceremony marking the unveiling of a portrait of Commander Gillen at the new Police Administration Building.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Police Commissioner Alan Skobin for making the LAPD Purple Heart a reality.

Commissioner Skobin was having dinner with five LAPD officers to thank them for their service, and asked for their thoughts on how he could make a difference as a police commissioner. He learned that two of the officers had been shot in the line of duty. The officers explained that not only did they suffer severe physical injuries, but they were traumatized emotionally long after the physical wounds healed. They then told Commissioner Skobin how after literally taking bullets while protecting the people of Los Angeles, they received no form of recognition for their sacrifice when they returned to work. They also told Commissioner Skobin about the lack of lasting recognition for the families of many officers killed in the line of duty. Commissioner Skobin was deeply touched by the conversation and vowed to spearhead efforts to implement the LAPD Purple Heart.

Margie Gillen is a most deserving person to receive the first LAPD Purple Heart on behalf of her late husband. We thank Chief Beck for presenting it and Commissioner Skobin for his focused efforts to establish this long-overdue symbol of recognition for the men and women of the LAPD, who risk their lives daily to protect and serve.

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Prisoner release plan still dangerous and unacceptable

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/20/2009 @ 10:57 PM

The state has submitted a new plan to reduce the prison population in an effort to satisfy a judicial panel even as it attempts to block the panel’s decision by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The latest plan will require the three federal judges to issue orders that the state considers illegal and that the League sees as dangerous and unacceptable. 

As an example, the judicial panel would have to order the State Department of Corrections to not accept individuals who fit a specified profile, such as those with no strikes under the "three-strike" law who are convicted of simple drug possession or any one of a number of theft-related crimes. Another example would be an order to not accept any person convicted of felony theft that did not meet a $950 threshold.

The judicial panel, formed under provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, ruled in August that substandard health care received by inmates in California's 33 adult prisons violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and that overcrowding is the primary reason. The judges ordered the Schwarzenegger administration to come up with a plan "that will in no more than two years reduce the population of adult institutions to 137.5% of their combined design capacity."

This is a classic case of a solution in search of a problem. The design capacity of California prisons is one inmate per cell, yet most cells are built to house two inmates!  In our opinion, the judge’s panel is dramatizing the overcrowding figures which, according to the excellent article, “The False Promise and Lethal Consequences of Releasing Inmates,” are nothing new.  “California prisons have been overcrowded for more than 15 years,” Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation  writes.  “…As of June 30, 2009, California had roughly the same number of inmates in state prisons as it did 1998.” 

Besides the fact that we don’t feel the overcrowding is a new and urgent problem, there are other measures that can be taken to reduce the prison population density – such as maximizing the use of  out-of-state facilities to house prisoners and deporting imprisoned non-citizens – that do not involve releasing criminals onto our streets.

The panel’s assertion that inmates are being denied adequate healthcare is also questionable.  According to Rushford’s article, per inmate spending on healthcare, levels of medical staffing and mortality rates (California’s inmate mortality rate is 38th lowest among the 50 states), do not support the judges’ conclusion.  The state currently spends an estimated $14,000 a year per inmate on medical care for its prisoners, while the federal government only spends about $4,000 per prisoner!

Rushford concludes, as we argued in previous posts and articles, that the release of prisoners is unlikely to save the state money; that costs to re-arrest and prosecute re-offenders will be pushed to local governments; and that Californians will pay the highest price in terms of property and lives lost.

At this point, our best chance to stop the federal government from overstepping its authority and interjecting itself in the operation of the state prison system is intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.  We think that the panel’s justification for the massive release is simply not supported by the facts, and are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clearly see that.

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When it comes to breaking news in L.A., getting it right is more important than getting it first

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/13/2009 @ 05:21 PM

One of the pitfalls of breaking news on the Internet and 24/7 news channels is that media organizations feel pressured to post or broadcast stories very quickly – sometimes before thorough fact checking and reflective editing. In the highly competitive Los Angeles market, the major news organizations and blogs want to claim credit for being first with the story, even if it turns out the stories were inaccurate or the headlines inappropriately sensationalist.

A case in point was Thursday’s rush to report the tragic news of Flor Medrano, the mid-City woman who was stabbed to death as police officers rushed to her aid. The officers shot and killed her assailant in their attempt to save her.

The horribly tragic event was made even worse by an initial web story headlined “LAPD probes how woman under police protection was slain with officers nearby.” Readers may have inferred from the headline that LAPD had been remiss in protecting the woman. Nothing could be further from the truth, now that the facts are in.

At a press conference yesterday, Wilshire Captain Eric Davis spoke with unconditional support for his officers. He and all who helped in the investigation should be commended for helping the LAPD media relations staff release a comprehensive and factual recounting of the tragic circumstances leading to Flor’s death – and, as importantly, the back story on how the LAPD officers came to be involved in the case and the diligent steps taken to try to place the woman out of harm’s way. Her assailant was hell-bent on taking her life and no one is more shocked, saddened and outraged than the responding officers. We extend condolences to the family and friends of the victim – and to the LAPD officers who could not have done more to save her.

As you read the following LAPD official media advisory on this tragedy, we hope you agree that when it comes to breaking news in LA, the motto of every professional news organization should be: “Get it first, but first get it right.” And the second part of that motto is much more important than the first.

LAPD Media Relations

Officers Attempting to Prevent Murder Shoot Suspect NR09545jr

Los Angeles: At about 11:30 p.m. yesterday, Los Angeles Police Officers assigned to Wilshire Area shot a suspect who was stabbing his estranged girlfriend.

On November 11, 2009, at about 5:00 p.m., Flor Medrano, 30 years of age and a resident of the Mid-City area, flagged down Wilshire Area Patrol Officers. Ms. Medrano reported to the officers that she had been threatened and assaulted by her estranged boyfriend on November 10, 2009. Medrano identified the suspect to the officers, who was believed to be a resident of Inglewood, California. Medrano showed the officers that she had been receiving threatening text messages.

The officers initiated an investigation into the assault and the criminal threats. Officers attempted to locate the suspect by requesting the assistance of the Inglewood Police Department. Inglewood police officers responded to the suspect’s residence but he was not there.

During the course of the investigation, the suspect sent a text message to Medrano which led the investigators to believe that he was at her residence. The investigators responded to the residence, which is described as a second-story apartment in a complex located in the 1300 block of South Cochran Ave. The suspect was not located at the apartment or in the area.

The officers returned to the Wilshire Police Station where Medrano had been waiting for several hours during the investigation. Medrano informed the officers that she wanted to return to her residence. The officers offered to help Medrano secure a place at a domestic violence shelter or to drive her to another location of her choice. Ultimately Medrano decided that she wanted to return home. She explained to the officers that the suspect did not have a key to her residence and that her child from a previous relationship was being cared for elsewhere.

At about 10:45 p.m., the officers followed Medrano to her residence and verified that she had entered safely. Two officers remained outside of the residence in an unmarked police vehicle in hopes of apprehending the suspect. From their position in the police car, the officer had an unobstructed view of Medrano’s front door, which is the only doorway into the apartment.

At about 11:25 p.m., the officers called Medrano by phone to verify her safety and to let her know that they were preparing to leave. The cell phone call was interrupted. Several attempts were made to reestablish the connection. When the connection was finally reestablished, the officers heard screaming. The officers radioed for backup officers and ran up the stairs to the apartment. They observed through a window that Medrano was being stabbed by the suspect. An officer-involved shooting occurred.

As the officer-involved shooting was occurring, backup officers were arriving. Officer forced their way into the apartment and rendered aid to both Medrano and the suspect. Medrano was suffering from multiple stab wounds to her upper torso and the suspect was suffering from a gunshot wound.

Los Angeles Fire Department Paramedics responded to the scene. Both Medrano and the suspect were transported to an area hospital where they were pronounced dead.

Force Investigation Division has assumed responsibility for the officer-involved shooting investigation and Wilshire Homicide Detectives have assumed responsibility for the murder investigation. The knife used in the murder has been recovered.

Persons with information related to this incident are requested to call Wilshire Homicide Detectives at 213-473-0446. On weekends and during off hours, callers may call the 24-hour tip line at 1-877-LAPD 24-7 (1-877-527-3247). Those wishing to remain anonymous may use their cellular phones and text to “CRIMES” or by logging on to http://www.lapdonline.org and clicking on “webtips.” When using a cell phone, always begin the text portion of the message with the letters LAPD. Texting or internet tips provided in this manner are anonymous.

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