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Hopeful signal from the U.S. Supreme Court?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/15/2013 @ 03:45 PM

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. – The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Adopted in 1792, the Fourth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

Seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed what happens if police show up at a house occupied by two people, request permission to search the house and one occupant says yes and the other says no. In that ruling, the court said in the event of a tie between disagreeing occupants, the objecting occupant wins.

Fast forward to 2013. On Wednesday, the court considered the case of Fernandez v. California (12-7822) involving an October 2009 police search of an apartment in Los Angeles shared by a suspected street gang member and his girlfriend. In that case, the defendant’s girlfriend – who lived with the defendant in the apartment along with her children – answered the door. She was bruised and bloody. The defendant then approached the door, and the officers asked him to step back, as they suspected he had assaulted his girlfriend. The defendant refused and objected to a search, so the officers restrained him and walked him away from the entrance of the apartment. The officers soon realized that the defendant was the suspect in a gang-related assault, and arrested him for that crime. One hour later, the officers returned to the apartment, asking the girlfriend to consent to a search. She agreed, and the search revealed evidence of the defendant’s crime.

The case is being followed closely in Los Angeles and across the nation because it could narrow legal protections against police searches. Reporting on the court hearing, David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times said the high court appeared to back the warrantless home search by LAPD officers.

“Justices appeared to agree with attorneys for the Los Angeles Police Department, who defended the search as legal because the gang member, Walter Fernandez, was not present and his girlfriend gave police permission to enter their home,” Savage reported.

We are encouraged by reports from Wednesday’s hearing and are grateful to the attorneys for the LAPD who defended the officers’ actions. We are hopeful the justices will agree that the Fernandez search was legal. We shall anxiously await the court’s decision as it will provide further guidance on the application of the Fourth Amendment more than 220 years after its adoption.

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

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Is it ever OK not to use a safety belt?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/12/2013 @ 04:47 PM

LAPD policy mandates that employees wear safety belts whenever operating a Department vehicle, but gives discretion to officers for tactical considerations.

A report of the Department’s audit presented last week to the Los Angeles Police Commission is likely to rekindle the on-again/off-again debate on safety belt use by police officers and the extent to which tactical considerations should be a factor in non-use.

The report by Inspector General Alexander Bustamante said a review of the Department’s Traffic Collision Reports for the second quarter of 2012 “suggests the incidence of officer safety belt non-use could be as high as 37 percent.”

That percentage would be in line with national statistics. In the past three decades, at least 42 percent of police officers killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing safety belts or other safety restraints, according to a federal review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, the NHTSA found that traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of law enforcement fatalities for 14 of the past 15 years.

“Aside from policy considerations,” Bustamante wrote, “the immediate concern regarding the officer non-use of safety belts is that officers are needlessly placing themselves at risk of injury. Our review identified that officers sustained injuries, sometimes serious, in almost 18 percent of the collisions when safety belts were not used. In contrast, when officers did use safety belts, they suffered injuries less than 7 percent of the time, and none of the injuries were serious.”

Bustamante recommended that the Police Commission direct the Department to review its safety belt policies to determine whether officer vehicle safety is sufficiently emphasized and whether the Department employs sufficient incentives for safety belt use, or appropriate penalties for non-use.

This important issue has been researched, studied and debated since modern safety belts became standard equipment in police cruisers and civilian automobiles more than half a century ago. Over the years, a variety of reasons have been cited in Los Angeles and across America for non-use of safety belts. While some officers are disinclined to use seat belts because they believe the restraints slow their movement in and out of their cars – potentially putting them at a tactical disadvantage – the reality is that officers can be trained to use seat belts and be tactically sound. With proper training and regular use, officers can use seat belts without having the straps get tangled with utility or gun belts and slowing their tactical response.

The State of Maryland Highway Safety Office, in collaboration with the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, Maryland Sheriffs’ Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police, has released an outstanding 12-minute video called “Arrive Alive.” This video discusses the importance of seat belts and the hazards of excessive speed and distraction in order to assist their officers to arrive alive.

“Arrive Alive” is now available on the POST Learning Portal. It may also be downloaded from the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association website.

We welcome a comprehensive review of safety belt use, with the goal of balancing the needs for maximum safety on the roads and the ability to respond instantly in an ambush or other unexpected encounter. We urge officers to participate in this process. Please share your experiences and thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Wear your seat belt, watch your speed and practice SAFE driving!

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Fighting for officers’ rights

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/24/2013 @ 11:37 AM

We are encouraged by a Court of Appeal decision this week reinstating the LAPPL’s lawsuit challenging the unfair policy of Chief Beck to issue “involuntary conditional Official Reprimands” to officers accused of disciplinary actions.

Justice Walter Croskey, on behalf of a unanimous panel of justices, agreed with the League’s strongly-held belief that its lawsuit sufficiently stated grounds for injunctive and declaratory relief where the complaint alleged that conditional reprimands violate officers’ rights by imposing “a predetermined minimum disciplinary penalty which will be imposed in the event of a future commission of the same or similar misconduct by the officer.”

The League is adamant that such predetermined discipline violates officers’ state and federal constitutional rights to a fair and impartial hearing, as well as rights guaranteed by state statute and the city’s charter.

Thankfully, the League’s arguments resonated with Justice Croskey who set aside a misguided earlier ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern. The Court of Appeal justices also ordered that the City must reimburse the League’s legal costs of the appeal.

We shall continue to use all means available to aggressively protect our members’ legal rights in this and all other cases.

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Texas billionaire funds latest attack on California pensions

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/17/2013 @ 11:37 AM

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and mayors from four other California cities announced a pension reform initiative on Tuesday that would amend the California Constitution. They are attempting to add the initiative to the November 2014 state ballot.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and mayors from four other California cities announced a pension reform initiative on Tuesday that would amend the California Constitution. They are attempting to add the initiative to the November 2014 state ballot.

A new pension initiative funded by out-of-state interests has been filed to amend the California Constitution to let the City reduce the pension benefits of police officers and other government employees. Texas billionaire John Arnold, who made millions working for Enron during the Enron-initiated California energy crisis, provided the majority of the funding for this initiative.

The initiative would allow all public employers to unilaterally reduce its employees’ pension formula going forward, increase the age at which employees would be able to retire to collect a retirement under the new formula, and increase the amount of money employees have to pay into the pension system each week. The initiative establishes that all of the changes would be set at whatever level the employer wants.

The initiative sets no floor on benefit changes, so Los Angeles police officers and other city employees would be at the City’s mercy as to how low the takeaways will go. 1.5 percent at age 60 for current police officers; no COLAs for future years of service; no more retiree health care to be earned for future years of service – and any, all or more (less!) could be implemented at the City’s discretion or even decreased in future years if the City wanted to go that route. If the City decided it would no longer pay into the pension system, you would have to pay all of the yearly pension costs that could be imposed.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, which represents active and retired public employees, said the measure “breaks the promise of a secure retirement made to millions of Californians, many of whom are ineligible for Social Security and have an average pension of $26,000 per year. It will allow public employers to unilaterally cut the retirement benefits promised to current teachers, firefighters, police officers and school bus drivers.”

The initiative will also require employers to develop a “funding plan” for those pension plans, which are funded at less than 80 percent. The guise of having to meet this funding plan will, of course, provide cover for employers to affect your current pay. Raises, overtime, and future benefit increases in areas such as medical plans would no longer be on the table in order to keep up with the rising costs of the new funding plan.

Changes that lower pension benefits have been applied to new workers because they know up front the bargain they have entered. Abolishing collective bargaining and instead imposing reductions to pension and retiree health benefits – after an employee has committed a substantial part of their productive working life to an employer – is contrary to fairness and the rule of law. That those proposing this change to affect one group of employees have stooped to the drastic step of amending the state constitution, which by its terms currently forbids such a practice, is an admission of the radicalness of such a change to an established rule.

This initiative is the first shot against removing the ability of public employees to collectively bargain for benefits and employment conditions. The stated reason, that such changes are needed for the fiscal health of the employer, can easily be used in the future to remove collective bargaining rights for fair pay, working conditions, or any area where the employer is restricted in imposing employment conditions. However, it doesn’t end with police officers and other public employees. If the contractual rights of one group can no longer be protected, what contractual rights will out-of-state billionaires next decide should no longer be protected by the California Constitution?

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

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LAPPL position regarding lapel/on-body cameras

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/23/2013 @ 12:02 PM

Since 2007, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has been involved in efforts to fairly implement cameras in all LAPD patrol cars because we believe this equipment will serve to protect police officers from frivolous and unwarranted complaints. Our position on the benefits of video cameras has not changed, and neither has our concern about the protection of officers’ privacy.

We expect that video recordings will enhance cases by documenting crimes, as well as serve to refute frivolous claims of police misconduct or brutality. Time and again, the best evidence against made-up tales of police abuse has been the complete, unedited video footage of an incident captured in its entirety and context. The Rialto Police Department’s recent experience with body cameras has demonstrated that cameras reduce complaints against officers.

The Digital In-Car Camera System has proven to be another tool to improve officer safety and accountability, enhance training and improve prosecution of criminal cases. The review of videos by arresting officers has proven valuable in the documentation of criminal activity and subsequent testimony. However, concerns have been raised as to how the Department uses the videos for administrative purposes, and we are addressing those issues as they arise, so as not to allow “gotcha” mentality or misuse to derail the intended purpose. We believe that our officers have not only a duty to be accurate, but a right to be accurate. To that end, the review of video and/or audio evidence before writing reports, testifying, or submitting to interviews in not only important, but vital to that goal.

While video can be helpful, we should all remember that video images and/or recordings are two-dimensional and therefore are not by themselves complete investigations. The work rules for the deployment and use of body cams must assure our members that they not be used to unfairly or unreasonably scrutinize an officer’s work performance.

Balancing everyone’s right to privacy with technology that could, in effect, capture every moment of every day, will be our emphasis as we consider and negotiate work rules. Among other issues, recording a very personal moment or a deeply visceral reaction to a violent or tragic crime scene may serve no purpose other than to satisfy morbid curiosity and embarrass someone.

At the September 10, 2013, Police Commission meeting, President Steve Soboroff stated that he hoped to move forward with technological advances, including cameras on officers and more cameras in cars, within 18 months. “It will enhance officer safety and risk management,” Soboroff said. “It will save tens of millions of dollars in court and help us resolve crimes.”

While not included in his statement, we are certain that President Soboroff expects and wants our input as we establish policies and procedures to optimize the use of these cameras without violating anyone’s right to privacy. We agree with Police Commission President Steve Soboroff that the cameras will both protect officers and ensure the actions they take are consistent with best practices in policing, and look forward to working with the Department and Commission to develop a program that serves everyone’s best interests.

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

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Los Angeles police officers support prison plan agreement

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 09/17/2013 @ 02:22 PM

Governor Brown recently came to an agreement with legislative leaders that allows the state to comply with a federal court order to limit the prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity while avoiding the early release of thousands of prisoners.

On behalf of all Los Angeles police officers, we applaud Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Pérez, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway for reaching an agreement that helps keep California residents safe. These leaders recognize that we cannot release these dangerous convicted felons early. We are already seeing crime rates spike as the state continues to place prisoners into overcrowded county jails. Unless felons know that at the end of the day they will lose their freedom if they continue to commit crimes, there is no incentive for them to stop committing those crimes. We hope that the panel of three federal judges that ordered California to release felons will modify their order and support the plan adopted by the governor and legislative leaders that puts public safety first. The plan would:

  • Authorize up to $315 million in immediate in-state and out-of-state capacity.
  • Lay the foundation for longer-term changes to the criminal justice system, in collaboration with the Legislature and stakeholders.
  • Strengthen existing local efforts to manage offenders by increasing the amount of funding that county probation departments receive if they can serve felony probationers locally and keep them from coming to prison.
  • Require that if the court modifies the order in a way that reduces the cost of compliance, the first $75 million in savings will go to reducing recidivism.

We hope the three federal judges provide the state time to let the proposed compromise work rather than mandate that felons be released throughout the state. Los Angeles police officers share the goal of the governor and legislative leaders who want to provide the best prison and rehabilitation system in the country.

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

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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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