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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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Council approves two projects to stimulate the economy

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/20/2013 @ 01:59 PM

In recent weeks, the Los Angeles City Council has approved two critical projects that will help boost the economy in Southern California.

The first project, the modernization of LAX also has the added benefit of improving safety. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar capital improvement program at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). We strongly support modernization at LAX, including certain key improvements to the airfield, the passenger terminals and ground transportation systems that will improve safety.

The LAPPL joined the Los Angeles Chamber and the City Council in supporting safety, good jobs and economic growth by supporting the Los Angeles International Airport modernization plan, which will provide key transportation and terminal improvements to give Los Angeles a safe and competitive world class airport for the 21st century.

Part of the security improvements will include the “In-Line Baggage Handling & Screening System” program, which will improve and automate the security screening of checked baggage at all LAX terminals and will make travel through LAX safer, faster and more convenient. Some of the traveler benefits include more timely and efficient baggage security screening, reduced passenger congestion in the airline ticketing lobbies by relocating the checked-baggage screening machines to non-public areas, resulting in enhanced overall safety, security and service at LAX.

As the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce pointed out, “a positive vote will give LAX the opportunity to compete with the rest of the world in airport safety, convenience and efficiency. It will create thousands of jobs, dramatically improve our image and significantly increase the quality of life for local residents who use LAX.”

The second crucial project that the Council approved came after nearly eight years of analysis. Under the leadership of Joe Buscaino, the Council approved BNSF Railway’s $500 million, privately funded Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project. SCIG will be located within four miles of the ports, allowing trucks loaded with cargo to travel a much shorter distance before transferring the containers to rail, instead of traveling 24 miles up the 710 Freeway. SCIG will support the competitiveness and forecasted growth of both ports, which handle more than 40 percent of the nation’s container cargo and account for more than a million jobs in California.

The SCIG project will create approximately 1,500 construction jobs per year over three years of construction and 22,000 direct and indirect jobs in Southern California by 2036. Qualified local applicants will receive priority for new jobs and BNSF will offer a jobs training program to assist local residents in qualifying for those jobs. SCIG will be the greenest intermodal facility in the U.S. and will feature $100 million in green technologies, clean new trucks on designated routes and funding for zero emissions technology research.

The project will result in significant air quality and health risk improvements as compared to continuing the existing uses at the site. Most importantly, like the LAX modernization, the project will help the Southern California economy.

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

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Inventing the headline number

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/17/2013 @ 01:11 PM

The playbook is familiar now—gin up a study on public pensions and government debt to be released to media outlets with a headline-grabbing number shrieking doom for public finances. The latest exhibit is a propaganda piece tossed out to the media by the anti-public employees group California Public Policy Center (CPPC) purposely inflates pension debt.

An early entrant into the invention of “studies to grab headlines” was Joe Nation and a gaggle of graduate students at Stanford. They ginned up a “study” which purported to measure the unfunded liability of public pensions in California by lowering the assumed return rates of pension fund investments. Nation used this lower rate to recalculate current liabilities of pensions, which resulted in a wildly inflated number. As intended, he grabbed headlines in California and around the nation—with far less attention paid to the deliberate manipulation underlying the “study.”

The CPPC is a newer entrant to these propaganda efforts. Driven by hatred of public employees and public employee unions, and a belief that public employees and unions are the main cause of the “downfall” of California (and perhaps, the nation and mankind as we know it), this group endeavors to influence the media through “research” and “studies.”

These guys are not amateur propaganda peddlers. Although operating a website “UnionWatch,” whose self-described mission is to uncover the impact of public sector unions on government budgets and—yes—even the “democratic process”—they know friendly plants in the media won’t cite studies carrying the “UnionWatch” label. So, the more innocuous sounding CPPC is used as the label cover for their propaganda.

Their latest effort of April 26, 2013, claims the total of California public debt is over $1 trillion. It is a classic installment in the “make up the numbers until we get the headline number we want” game run by the anti-public employee folks. Why? Well, they acknowledge the official debt calculation is a far cry from their desired headline number of $1 trillion. So, they simply went ahead and invented numbers until they got the result they wanted. Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters may have said it best in an editorial; math should trump politics in California pension debate.

What Paulson describes in his editorial is how they increased the fixed debt cost by including as “debt” estimates of unfunded pension costs. However, the reported debt of public pensions in California calculated with their official discount rates didn’t increase the total debt to CPPC’s desired trillion-dollar headline. So, to make the pension liability larger, CPPC simply decreased the fund’s discount rate by 40 percent to 5.5 percent. Their justification: a July 2012 Moody’s statement that considered using 5.5 percent to calculate pension debt. Of course, they simply ignored Moody’s statement of April 17, 2013, that they wouldn’t be using a fixed 5.5 percent rate.

While that 5.5 percent rate increased pension liabilities by $200 billion, it still fell short of CPPC’s desired headline of “a trillion dollars of debt.” So, more sleight of hand ensued. CPPC used Joe Nation’s fabricated discount rate of 4.5 percent to again increase pension liabilities by $1,110 billion. Having now increased pension liabilities from the official number of $138 billion to the invented number of $450 billion, the trillion dollar figure was within reach. Some made up recalculations of local debt was mixed in, retiree healthcare was added as debt—and at last the “trillion dollar” threshold was crossed! That headline number was dashed out to friendly media hacks, without a care that hundreds of billions of the “trillion dollar” debt figure was the product of outright fabrication and pure manipulation.

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

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