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Criminal behavior should be punished with actual incarceration

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/06/2013 @ 12:22 PM

Inmates are watched by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles. So far this year, the department has released more than 23,000 inmates before their jail terms were up. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times)

Inmates are watched by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles. So far this year, the department has released more than 23,000 inmates before their jail terms were up. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times reporters Jack Leonard and Abby Sewell turned to the California Public Records Act to get to the awful truth: More jail inmates in Los Angeles County are being set free after serving only a fraction of their sentences, and even inmates sentenced to jail for violence and sex crimes are serving as little as 40 percent of the time they were meant to spend behind bars.

Incredibly, Sheriff’s Department records show that under current policy, jailers immediately release male inmates sentenced to less than 90 days and female offenders sentenced to less than 240 days, according to the reporters’ story published Sunday.

Remember when incarceration – removal from society for a specified period of time – was punishment for and a deterrent to committing a criminal act? Well, it is less and less a punishment and deterrent these days thanks to the early release program that must make Los Angeles County the envy of criminals everywhere. Now you can commit all sorts of criminal activity, get apprehended by hard-working police officers, convicted by dedicated prosecutors, and serve little or no time behind bars. It is demoralizing for law enforcement, makes a mockery of the criminal justice system and seriously jeopardizes public safety.

We commend the enterprising reporters at the Times for shinning a bright light on the rapidly deteriorating Los Angeles County jail system. We urge Sheriff Baca, the County Board of Supervisors and – if necessary – the voters of Los Angeles County to take corrective action without delay.

At the same time, we have to call out the Times editorial board for an editorial published the same day that uses fuzzy logic and flimsy rationalizations to suggest there is no such thing as early release. Somehow, the Times would want us to believe that – except for inmates serving a life sentence – every inmate eventually gets released, so we shouldn’t be particularly concerned that criminals are being released way before their sentences are completed. Oh, please!

The vast majority of society (unlike the Times editorial board) believes – and rightfully so – that criminal behavior should be punished with incarceration. The viewpoint of the Times editorial board is that more emphasis should be placed on rehabilitation, mental health treatment and similar programs that are meant to reduce, or even replace, incarceration.

It is all well and good for government to develop and operate such programs. Indeed, some of these programs are very worthwhile and should be expanded as funding becomes available. But that shouldn’t mean a shortcut to freedom for felons who have committed serious crimes. Criminals who committed crimes need to be removed from society for an appropriate period of time for the safety of all law-abiding residents and the integrity of our criminal justice system.

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LAPD resources drained by prisoner realignment

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/22/2013 @ 03:45 PM

When Los Angeles residents need a police officer, they expect and deserve an immediate response. But it is getting harder to deliver on that expectation because LAPD officers are being pulled away from what they were hired to do in order to keep tabs on thousands of felons living in the city after their early release from prison. That used to be – and still should be – the responsibility of state parole officers.

The origin of the problem is a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the California’s prison population by 32,000 by 2013. That led to the Public Safety Realignment Act or AB109 that was signed into law in April 2011. AB109 altered the criminal justice system by changing felony sentencing, shifting housing for so-called low-level, non-violent offenders from state prison to county jails and transferring supervision of designated parolees to local agencies.

In a report to the Police Commission this week, the LAPD revealed that the Department has had to assign up to 170 full-time officers to keep tabs on some 5,400 felons who are living in Los Angeles after their release from prison. An estimated $18 million of the LAPD budget will be spent this fiscal year on these officers. But the most shocking statistic in the report is that LAPD has arrested 57 percent of these felons on suspicion of committing new crimes or for probation violations.

As we have pointed out previously in this blog, upon closer scrutiny, many low-level, non-violent offenders turn out to be clear and present threats to public safety. This occurs because of the way the state assesses which felons are eligible for release to local communities under AB109.

In a story Tuesday, LA Times police reporter Joel Rubin astutely observed: “The tally brings into sharp focus the considerable added strain the state’s so-called prison realignment plan has had on the LAPD, which generally is considered to have too few officers to adequately patrol the sprawling city.”

With the economy improving along with the state budget, it is time for the state legislature and the Governor to repair the damage done by AB109. The sooner they do, the sooner the men and women of the LAPD can stop standing in for parole officers and resume doing what they were hired to do and what L.A. residents expect them to do.

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

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Another bizarre ruling from the 9th Circuit puts public safety at risk

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/02/2013 @ 01:21 PM

The court has "a healthy amount of Western independence," said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the Ninth Circuit. Thor Swift for The New York Times

The court has "a healthy amount of Western independence," said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the Ninth Circuit. (Thor Swift for The New York Times)

Once again, we are not surprised that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down another bizarre ruling that defies logic and common sense – and puts public safety at risk.

Why aren’t we surprised? Because this appellate court has a well-earned reputation as the court most at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court. The 9th Circuit wields an awful lot of power, and as we previously blogged, it is one of the most reversed court in the nation.

Setting itself up to be reversed again, the 9th Circuit ruled on July 31 that a convicted sex offender can sue California for violating his civil rights by conditioning his parole with a residency restriction and GPS monitoring allowed by state law, Courthouse News Service reported.

William Thornton was convicted in California in 2006 for buying or receiving stolen property, and later for robbery. On both convictions, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation appropriately imposed residency and GPS monitoring restrictions as conditions of his parole release from prison because he had entered a guilty plea in Tennessee to sexual battery in 1987.

The California’s Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act of 2006, also known as Jessica’s Law, requires that registered sex offenders may not “reside within 2,000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” Another provision of state law requires electronic monitoring by a GPS device.

Thornton challenged the parole conditions during his second prison term in California. A federal judge in San Diego smartly dismissed his complaint, but on July 31, a divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed that decision, claiming the lower court had misinterpreted a U.S. Supreme Court’s resolution.

While we believe that this ruling missed the mark, a New York Times story, “‘Liberal’ Reputation Precedes Ninth Circuit Court” discusses why many observers believe the court is “out of touch with the nation’s political and judicial mainstream” and why bloggers call it the “nutty Ninth.”

We can only hope the William Thornton case is on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal where good judgment and common sense will prevail again. While that would make for another bad day for the 9th Circuit, it would be a good day for law enforcement and public safety.

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

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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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