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Federal judges putting public safety at risk again

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/17/2013 @ 12:59 PM

In this 2004 photo, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, poses with George Deukmejian, Gray Davis, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson, in Los Angeles. Associated Press/ Rene Macura

In this 2004 photo, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, poses with George Deukmejian, Gray Davis, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson, in Los Angeles. (Associated Press/ Rene Macura)

California Governor Jerry Brown is locked in a legal battle over control of his state’s prison system – a battle whose outcome will impact public safety. We applaud California’s four living former governors who have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to grant Gov. Brown’s request for a stay of the unprecedented and ill-advised order requiring the state to release nearly 10,000 felons by the end of the year.

In 2011, after more than a decade of court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population to about 110,000 inmates. Since that time, the state has done a tremendous amount of work, including realignment, and has reduced the overall population by tens of thousands of inmates in compliance of the majority of what the judges ordered. On April 11, 2013, a panel of federal judges rejected the state’s latest attempt to avoid the court’s order requiring the state to release nearly 10,000 convicted criminals into society. The judges on that panel include District Judges Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson, as well as U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

What is lost in this important debate is that the whole prison reduction requirement is based on the premise that fewer inmates will lead to better health care for those remaining in custody. Or, put another way, three judges are willing to put the health and safety of communities throughout the state at risk so that prisoners convicted of serious and violent crimes can get better health care. We agree that inmates should receive adequate health care while incarcerated and should not be subject to conditions that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. However, we do not believe that they should receive a level of health care that exceeds the level available to a majority of California residents, nor should that health care be afforded by releasing convicted criminals before their sentence has been served. Releasing inmates early so that the remaining can get superior medical care simply puts the public at risk.

While the federal courts might order U.S. Marshals to open the cell doors, Gov. Brown could stand in a cell and attempt to block the move, argued Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. “Brown would be heroically protecting citizens from thugs.” We agree.

Gov. Brown said it best in January: “It is now time to return the control of our prison system to California. We can run our own prisons and, by God, let those judges give us our prisons back. We’ll run them right.”

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

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Proposed mediation program deserves support

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/16/2013 @ 09:19 AM

A workplace mediation program – monitored outside of the LAPD – is an excellent idea, and the time to institute such a program has come. That is why we support Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General Alexander Bustamante’s call for such a program, which is in the best interests of our membership, the LAPD and taxpayers.

We urge the Police Commission to act swiftly to give final approval to the program called for in the Inspector General’s audit that would utilize independent lawyers with expertise in employment litigation to serve as mediators chosen from a mutually agreeable panel. The mediators would be given authority to remedy workplace conflicts to both parties’ satisfaction.

Without such a system in place, many LAPD officers find themselves in untenable workplace situations where their only viable option is to file a civil case against the Department. They cannot simply file a personnel complaint against a supervisor because too often that leads to the officer being labeled a troublemaker when he/she goes through the internal review system. Far too many officers have seen the tables turned on them and become victims of the system, often leading to substantially increased civil payouts.

In the current environment, millions of dollars are needlessly being paid out via civil lawsuits as indicated in the risk management audit recently published by the Office of the Inspector General. This should be of great concern to all stakeholders. Large payouts deplete funds that would otherwise be available to fully staff the LAPD or to fund salaries and benefits, promotions and overtime. Moreover, on a personal level, if you ask almost any officer who has received a large jury verdict following the initiation of employment litigation, you will learn that it has not come without a price that money cannot remedy.

As we have said publicly before, we urge the Department to join the LAPPL in committing to participate in the program developed by the IG. Trusting a third party, neutral mediator to resolve workplace conflicts in their early stages will go a long way toward improving morale and retention among the rank and file.

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

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Protecting officers and the public with LPR technology

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/11/2013 @ 10:27 AM

Since our country’s founding, personal freedoms have been in constant battle with the protection of the greater good. That battle continues today in Los Angeles as some privacy rights groups attempt to limit the tools that law enforcement uses every day to keep the public safe.

These groups target technology such as license plate recognition (LPR) consisting of cameras and computer databases that enable police officers to efficiently scan license plates as they drive. Much of this fear is fueled by a lack of understanding the technology itself. LPR technology does nothing more than what officers have been doing manually since the creation of the license plate: writing down license plate numbers, or radioing license plates in for checks against criminal databases. LPR simply makes the process more efficient, allowing the officer to look at all license plates equally and better focus on his or her surroundings.

LPR has proven effective in helping with literally thousands of cases nationwide. A recent example of the value of LPR technology occurred when LAPD officers used LPR data to locate a suspect in a violent rape and sodomy case. They used historical sightings of the vehicle from commercially available LPR data and identified a probable location for the suspect – an apartment complex in Las Vegas. U.S. Marshals were notified, at which point they located the suspect and took him into custody. “Had it not been for this data, collected and shared by Vigilant, who knows how long it would have been before the suspect was captured and how many more victims would have been hurt,” Detective Patricia Batts said.

Legislative efforts seek to limit both the use and retention of collected LPR data, which would significantly hinder law enforcement’s ability to conduct investigations into major crimes – putting the public and officers at greater risk.

Currently in California, each jurisdiction sets its own data retention policy. Due to affordable digital storage space, the LAPD holds data for five years, while Long Beach and the Sheriff’s Department retain it for two.

LPR is not an invasion of privacy, but rather a tool for law enforcement to better accomplish its mission to protect and serve. The onus is on law enforcement agencies and governing bodies to ensure that they have proper policies in place for disciplined and responsible use, with appropriate punishments for anyone operating outside of policy.

This battle between the personal freedoms and public good will never be resolved, but law enforcement agencies must have the freedom to use tools that can aid their efforts to keep their communities safe. The solution is not through the legislation or restriction of access to important tools like LPR; the solution is to ensure that the public is well informed of the benefits of these tools, and to create an environment of managed and disciplined use.

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

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Judge Brown, what were you thinking?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/10/2013 @ 11:59 AM

A dated photo of Christopher Evans Hubbart, who has admitted to raping about 40 women, authorities said. A judge ordered Hubbart's release from custody, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office is fighting the order.

A dated photo of Christopher Evans Hubbart, who has admitted to raping about 40 women, authorities said. A judge ordered Hubbart's release from custody, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office is fighting the order.

Christopher Hubbart admitted to raping approximately 40 women throughout California including 26 women in Los Angeles County between 1971 and 1982. If those crimes had been committed today, Hubbart would be facing life in prison. Unfortunately, in the era he committed his horrendous crimes, he received a sentence that now makes him eligible for conditional release from prison.

Incredibly, last May, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Gilbert Brown granted Hubbart’s request for conditional release from prison and determined he should be conditionally released to Los Angeles County, where he was raised. We can only shake our heads in disbelief at the judge’s nonsensical ruling.

Public officials are appropriately outraged over the prospect of his release and so are we. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced her office filed a writ challenging the judge’s ruling. “Our ultimate goal is to seek justice for all residents of Los Angeles County and make sure sexually violent predators remain in custody,” Lacey said. “This inmate has a long history of horrific violence against women and we must act to keep our community safe.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors applauded the DA’s decision, saying they were concerned about the threat that Hubbart could pose to local residents.

“A predator of this nature deserves life without parole,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said in a press release, calling Hubbart a serious public safety risk.

Fortunately, the court will hold a number of hearings between now and November before Hubbart can be released. The LAPPL strongly believes that all steps must be taken to ensure Hubbart remains in custody. We urge other concerned public officials and citizens to join DA Lacey and L.A. County supervisors in calling for nothing short of life in prison for this violent predator.

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

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We never forget our mission

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/03/2013 @ 01:21 PM

The mission of the Los Angeles Police Protective League is to vigilantly protect, promote and improve the working conditions, legal rights, compensation and benefits of Los Angeles police officers. Because of that mission, we pay especially close attention to actions anywhere that threaten those benefits, including our members’ pensions.

It is no secret that what happens in one part of the state can quickly spread to Los Angeles. That is why we have watched with great interest the case of the Pacific Grove Police Officers Association et al. v. City of Pacific Grove – a case resulting from a voter initiative that tried to change the vested pension rights of police officers.

With long-established case law including several California Supreme Court cases on the officers’ side, we were pleased but not surprised to hear the initiative was invalidated. The judge in that case has issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from “taking any action to implement, enforce, or give any effect” to the initiative.

Judge Thomas W. Wills of the Monterey County Superior Court ruled that the initiative violated the contracts clause of the California Constitution by capping the city’s contribution toward police officers’ pensions.

“The employees were told that they were to receive retirement benefits under a CalPERS administered plan with an employee cost set at a fixed percentage of their salary,” Judge Wills ruled. “The fluctuating portion would be borne by the employer.” The city violated the constitutional prohibition on impairment of contracts by essentially flipping those roles, the judge ruled.

The judge reaffirmed case law, holding that an “officer has a right to earn a pension on the terms promised him or her upon employment,” with the right commencing when employment begins. That right, wrote the court, cannot be taken away “by Charter Amendment, ordinance, council resolution or voter initiative,” without something of equal or greater value than the pension benefit being given in exchange.

This ruling sends the message to politicians and misguided individuals that the California and U.S. Constitution protect promised pension benefits. Those people will not be deterred; we have already read of a proposed initiative seeking to rewrite the California Constitution to remove public pension protection from the contracts clause. They should heed the lesson of Pacific Grove; the hard-earned pension benefits of the men and women who protect and serve their communities are not to be tampered with, and efforts to do so will be hard fought.

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

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Cause for great concern: L.A. is safer but our officers are not

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/26/2013 @ 04:58 PM

LAPD SWAT teams search along Washington Boulevard in the Mid City area on June 25, 2013, for a suspect who shot at two detectives near the Wilshire LAPD station early that morning. Police closed 25 square blocks for hours during the search. (David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

LAPD SWAT teams search along Washington Boulevard in the Mid City area on June 25, 2013, for a suspect who shot at two detectives near the Wilshire LAPD station early that morning. Police closed 25 square blocks for hours during the search. (David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

L.A. crime rates may be going down but as the events of Tuesday revealed all too painfully, violent crimes against police officers are going up.

Four officers were shot at in two separate attacks on Los Angeles law enforcement, leading to a massive manhunt in one case and a SWAT response to a barricaded suspect in the other. Of the four, three were struck, including an officer who was shot in the face.

The terrible day began around 4:45 a.m. when two LAPD Wilshire detectives were ambushed as they entered the parking lot of the Wilshire Area. The officers escaped serious injury and returned fire. They were taken to the hospital, treated and soon joined their fellow officers in hunting for the attacker.

Later Tuesday night, in what seems to be an unrelated case, an LAPD officer assisting in a probation check near South Los Angeles was shot in the face. He was hospitalized in stable condition and underwent surgery. A probation officer suffered a minor graze wound to his leg and was treated at the scene.

We are outraged and worried that an increasing number of criminals in our city have no qualms about brutally attacking and killing officers. What has always been a dangerous job has gotten a lot more dangerous of late.

On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the U.S. every 57 hours, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation. Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thankfully, the four officers shot on Tuesday are survivors of the violent, unprovoked attempts on their lives. They knowingly put their lives on the line when they went to work on Tuesday. L.A.’s streets and neighborhoods are safer today than they have been in decades, but our officers are not. Even as these recent attacks on officers have transpired, Governor Jerry Brown has been fighting an ill-advised Supreme Court order to reduce the inmate population in California by nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of 2013. Should Gov. Brown’s attempts to avoid this court order continue to be struck down by federal judges, every law-abiding citizen should be very worried about what the prison reduction requirement could portend for public safety in our city and country.

The hunt for the suspects in Tuesday’s attack on law enforcement continues as we write this blog post. We are confident that they will be arrested and brought to justice. In the meantime, the words of Chief Beck following Tuesday morning’s attack bear repeating:

“Early this morning we were – once again – reminded of the brazen, indiscriminate acts of violence committed against police officers and how inherently dangerous our work continues to be… Please continue to be vigilant and look out for each other. Take nothing for granted. Our LAPD family remains strong. We are bound by our commitment to serve and protect the community, including our brothers and sisters in blue.”

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

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Gang injunctions keep working to make L.A. safer

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/19/2013 @ 02:12 PM

Approximate boundaries of area that would be covered by proposed gang injunction.

Approximate boundaries of area that would be covered by proposed gang injunction.

Councilmember and Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti deservedly presided at the reopening last Saturday of Echo Park Lake. The much-anticipated event followed a two-year, $45 million dredging and rebuilding of the iconic recreation area that includes new wetlands, boardwalk embankments and lotuses.

Now comes the hard part – keeping the area around the beautifully-restored lake safe for kids and families, and free from gang-related crime.

That is why we were pleased that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wasted no time in proposing creation of a 3.8 square mile safety zone around the beautifully-restored lake. The gang injunctions that create the zone are designed to keep gang members from associating with each other in the area bounded by the L.A. River to the north, First Street to the south, the 110 freeway to the east, and North Coronado Street to the west.

The state’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, which allowed for the creation of gang injunctions defines a “criminal street gang” to include any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more of a list of specified criminal acts; having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol; and whose members individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity. The six rival gangs named in the latest injunction – the Big Top Locos, the Crazys, the Diamond Street Locos, Echo Park Locos, Frogtown Rifa and the Head Hunters – have been feuding for years, endangering public safety.

Los Angeles pioneered the use of gang injunctions in the 1980s as a powerful crime-fighting tool. Since then, they have spread across the country and beyond.

Los Angeles magazine noted in a recent blog post that there are some 44 permanent gang injunctions in Los Angeles placed on 72 gangs. Some of the injunctions prohibit known gang members from traveling in vehicles together, standing together, or even possessing cell phones (certain exceptions apply) inside of the judge-approved areas mapped out by the LAPD or city attorney.

An LAPD map posted online shows all the areas current approved for gang injunctions. The area surrounding Echo Park will be a welcome addition to the map.

The city of Los Angeles owes a debt of gratitude to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich for his commitment to fighting gang crime through the effective use of gang injunctions. L.A.’s streets, neighborhoods, parks and lakes are safer because of gang injunctions and similar proactive measures initiated in the city attorney’s office. We look forward to working with City Attorney-elect Mike Feuer, who takes office July 1 in the City’s never-ending quest to rein in criminal gang activity.

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

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A landmark decision puts public safety first

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/05/2013 @ 11:06 AM

Monday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the police practice of taking DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime is a major victory for law enforcement and public safety. In upholding a Maryland law, the High Court decided one of the most important criminal procedure cases it has taken up in decades.

In the 5-4 ruling that altered normal ideological alliances, the Court ruled that the practice amounts to the 21st century version of fingerprinting. The majority ruled that DNA sampling, after an arrest “for a serious offense” and when officers “bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler applauded the decision, saying it will help “unsolvable cold cases” and can help exonerate those wrongly accused.

Of the 50 states, nearly 30 states including California, as well as the federal government currently authorize the practice. The High Court’s decision on Monday may hasten the practice becoming standard procedure nationwide as a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. Another benefit of Monday’s ruling is that it likely will bolster California’s defense of various court challenges of the existing program to collect DNA. And looking to the near future when instant DNA testing becomes practical, DNA swabbing can play a key role in identifying a person under arrest so a judge can make an informed decision about granting bail.

California voters wisely approved the collection of DNA from many criminal suspects in 2004. The League knows from experience that DNA collection from suspects has helped solve violent crimes and it has gotten violent serial offenders off the streets, saving untold lives of innocent people.

We commend Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. for their courageous decision. Our nation and our cities will be safer for it.

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

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