Police officers in danger because of court ruling

For Immediate Release

Contact: Eric Rose (805) 624-0572 or
Paul Haney (626) 755-4759

Police officers in danger because of court ruling

Los Angeles, December 19, 2009 -- In response to a court ruling yesterday overturning an important California law that bans possession of body armor by anyone with a violent felony conviction, Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber issued the following statement:

It must be nice to be an Appellate Court Judge ruling from on high with scant regard to the real world. In another display of judicial arrogance, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles has overturned an eleven-year-old law that barred those convicted of certain violent felonies from possessing body armor. The Justices who overruled the law were apparently deeply concerned that violent felons would be uncertain as to what constitutes body armor, and therefore the law was ruled constitutionally void for vagueness.

The case arose when LAPD officers stopped convicted murderer Ethan Saleem in 2007 while he was out on parole after serving time for his conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Saleem was wearing a 10-pound military style armored vest that had a label reading "body armor, fragmentation protection," which he was not allowed to wear because of his violent felony conviction.

This eminently sensible law was passed following two famous incidents: the 1994 killing of San Francisco Police Officer James Guelff, murdered by a robber wearing body armor; and the notorious North Hollywood shootout that saw 11 LAPD officers and 6 civilians wounded during a prolonged exchange of gunfire with two bank robbery thugs clad head to toe in homemade body armor.

The law that was invalidated was certainly not overly broad---only those convicted of violent felonies were prohibited from possessing body armor. In our view--- and that of one dissenting Justice---the majority on the Court of Appeals ruled the wrong way. As dissenting Justice Richard Aldrich so plainly and correctly put it: "If a violent felon chooses to possess an item that appears to be body armor and ...the garment is actually body armor....then there is no reason why the conviction should not stand."

This case further illustrates the message that we have been hammering home the past few months---felon parolees released from prison early pose an avoidable danger to our communities. Certainly Saleem wasn't wearing body armor because he was going to a job interview or going on a date. Like so many parolees before him and, if early prison releases begin, likely to come after him, he was again engaged in criminal activity. Just how many times will innocent people and police officers have to be victimized before the message sinks in that convicted felons are dangerous?

It is troubling enough that convicted felons like Saleem are walking our streets. More troubling is the fact that Justices on our State Appellate Courts invalidate narrowly tailored laws that seek to lessen the danger that these parolees can pose once they are released amongst us. Meanwhile Justices on our Federal Appellate Courts demand the early release of tens of thousands of Ethan Saleems, further endangering not only civilians but also the men and women sworn to protect our communities.

The ruling can be read at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B204646.PDF

About the LAPPL Formed in 1923, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) represents the more than 9,900 dedicated and professional sworn members of the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPPL serves to advance the interests of LAPD officers through legislative and legal advocacy, political action and education. The LAPPL can be found on the Web at www.LAPD.com