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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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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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