As many of you may have heard by now, 19 firefighters were killed Sunday night battling an out-of-control wildfire, located about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.
The 19 were members of a team of highly-trained wildland firefighters known as the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots (pictured above), one of the elite Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) that are deployed as needed to major wildland fires throughout the nation.
The deaths of the Prescott hot shots is the second worst such incident in U.S. history, and the worst firefighting loss of life since 1933.
When firefighters or police officers are killed, it tears a particular kind of hole in the community—both locally and in the larger community. Thus, while WLA doesn’t genrally report on wildfires, in this case….attention must be paid.
Feeling incredible shock and grief over the deaths of the 19 firefighters killed in Yarnell,Az wildfires. Please pray 4 their families.CB
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
OFFICER LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT DEMONSTRATE NEED FOR CHANGES AND REFORMS SAYS LAPD’S INSPECTOR GENERAL
The LAPD’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante, issued a sharply-worded report that critiqued the department’s failure to institute reforms to reduce the number of officers suing department—and collecting big $$ payouts—as a result of various claims of ill-treatment at the hands of the LAPD.
Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.
In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.
The Los Angeles Police Comission will discuss Bustamante’s report on Tuesday.
And while we’re on the topic, it would be good to know what percentage of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department payouts are to settle with department members.
It should also be noted that, in his report, Bustamante said that, in the last 5 years, the LAPD has paid out $110 million in lawsuits, 31 million of which is cops suing the department.
On Thursday, the court (with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion), ruled 5-4 that the proponents who came forward to defend Prop 8 after it was struck down by a lower court did not have the proper standing to bring the case to the High Court. So, in effect, the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.
The ruling has brought hundreds of same-sex couples to courthouses and city halls across California. As we wrote Saturday, it’s “wedding weekend in San Francisco” and other places.
This weekend, Kennedy (to whom appeals of decisions from California are directed) was asked to put a stop to the weddings. Prop 8′s supporters, as our colleagues at KQED reported, argued that because they have 25 days in which to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the marriages should be on hold for at least that long.
Kennedy disagreed. So, the marriages can continue.
TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, EXPERIMENT COULD SET THE STAGE FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM ACROSS THE STATE
Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin within its borders) has decided that it can do a better job in helping its law breaking kids turn their lives around, by making use of intensive therapy and other rehabilitative programs.
Brandi Grisson writing for the Texas Tribune has the story. Here’s a clip:
“…We will no longer commit kids to the state,” said Jeanne Meurer, a Travis County senior district judge. “We will take care of all of our kids.”
This year, legislators approved a law to allow the county to commit juvenile offenders to local detention facilities instead of sending them to large institutions operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. If the Travis County model is successful, it could set the stage for the next steps in reforming the juvenile justice system — sharply reducing the size of the agency and the number of detention centers.
“Travis County’s experience doing this will tell us what’s possible,” said Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on jail conditions.
Since Texas deals with many of the same complex youth populations in its facilities as does California, what Travis does should be worth watching.
CHIEF BECK: OFFICER MISCONDUCT IN ALESIA THOMAS ARREST
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in a report to the Police Commission, said that a department officer’s use of force during the arrest of Alesia Thomas violated LAPD policy. (Here’s WitnessLA’s previous post on the LA woman who was kicked in the genital area by a female officer and later died in custody.) The department has opened formal internal investigations based on Chief Beck’s findings in the report.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was sharply critical of how several officers acted during an arrest last year in which a woman died during a prolonged struggle with police, department records released this week show.
In a report to the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, Beck concluded that a veteran female officer violated department policies when she repeatedly kicked and shoved 35-year-old Alesia Thomas in her genitals and midsection. The same officer, the chief and commission found, showed “apparent indifference” toward Thomas during the messy effort to restrain her and put her into the back of a police cruiser.
Beck raised concerns as well over the actions of three additional officers and a supervisor during the July 22 confrontation in South L.A. Two of the officers disregarded Thomas’ request for medical help, while the third cop may have lied to investigators about the incident, Beck wrote in his report. A sergeant who responded to the scene may have failed to properly supervise the officers, according to the report.
NO CHARGES AGAINST USC STUDENTS ARRESTED AT OFF-CAMPUS PARTY
On Tuesday, City Councilwoman Jan Perry filed a motion requesting a report from the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office on their response to the allegedly racially-charged arrests made at an off-campus USC students’ party. (You can read the back story here.)
Outgoing LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich issued a statement Wednesday in response, saying that no charges would be filed against the six students.
The arrests and large LAPD response that night fueled allegations of racial discrimination and heavy-handed tactics. A few community meetings with students, university officials and police were held after.
Perry attended some of those meetings and watched cell phone videos taken by students who were at the party during the police crackdown.
“I felt very strongly after watching the video that the response to them was very heavy-handed,” she said.
In the city council motion, Perry asks the LAPD to report back on the possibility of officers wearing lapel cameras, when use of force is authorized on students, and a strategic plan for dealing with noise complaints within a mile radius of campus.
It also calls on the City Attorney’s Office to report back to the council with an update on the criminal investigation of six students who face potential misdemeanor charges.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said in a written statement:
“After a complete review of this matter, the City Attorney’s Office has declined to file charges against the six individuals involved in this incident due to lack of sufficient evidence and no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
LETTERS ABOUT FOSTER CARE
The LA Times published three letters in response to Jim Newton’s Sunday column “Failing Our Children” (which WLA linked to earlier this week). The first letter is from Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, who was liberally quoted in the column. Here are two tiny clips (definitely go read the rest):
I want to amplify Jim Newton’s characterization of my attitude about Los Angeles County’s foster care system as “glum.”
…as long as we have more than 27,000 abused and neglected children under our court’s jurisdiction — thousands of whom are in need of safe, healthy, loving, permanent homes — I am not only not satisfied, I am glum.
There are two more letters that are worth reading, including one from the executive director of an L.A. County association of nonprofit child welfare and mental health agencies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After a few months hiatus, Taylor Walker is back posting at WLA. And we’re delighted to have her!
(Matt Fleischer is working on some new WLA stories so you’ll be seeing him back here shortly, as well.)
THE AFFECT OF CA’S HUGE MENTAL HEALTH CUTS ON INCARCERATION
Amid all the kerfuffle last week over the interview with You-Know-Who, we missed a few important stories, most notable among them was a Mother Jones feature on cutting mental-health funding across the US, and the collateral affect on crime and incarceration. California was ranked among the highest budget-cutters with an alarming 21% cut over the last three years. The unintended consequences of those cuts that Mother Jones outlines should cause every policy maker to take note.
Here are some of the highlights:
California ($3,612.8 million in 2009 to $2,848 million in 2012, -21.2 percent): Inmates with severe mental illness often wait three to six months for a state psychiatric hospital bed. In 2007, 19 percent of state prisoners were mentally ill. By 2012, 25 percent were.
For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.
Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.
In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.
LASD PERMANENT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL
In 1992, the Kolts Commission recommended that a civilian oversight panel be established for the LA Sheriff’s Dept. In an Op-ed for the LA Times, civil rights attorney R. Samuel Paz points out that two decades—and a few more recommendations—later, there is still no permanent civilian oversight. The LAPD has the police commission; the LASD has nothing equivalent.
The Kolts Commission then, just as the jails commission now, rejected the sheriff’s argument that civilian oversight was unnecessary because, as an elected official, he was accountable to the public. The commission noted: “Indeed, we know of no major metropolitan police department in the United States which is not subject to some civilian oversight — except the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”
The jails commission found the present oversight systems ineffective and inadequate. L.A. County Special Counsel Merrick Bobb’s frequent reports on systemic problems and the necessary reforms to fix them were ignored by the sheriff and lacked any enforcement mechanism or follow-up capability. The oversight by the Office of Independent Review, which was created in 2001 to monitor use-of-force and misconduct investigations, was found to be ineffective, ignored or changed by management. It also has been hampered by Sheriff’s Department officials withholding key documents on use of force in jails, in violation of the understanding that the Office of Independent Review was to have “unfettered access” to records. The ombudsman, which the jails commission described as the “clearinghouse for public complaints,” was found to be woefully inadequate in identifying patterns in complaints by civilians.
MILLION DOLLAR DETAINEE
The Pentagon spends an astronomical $900,000 on each Guantanamo detainee per year. Eek and egad! Surely this money can be put to better use elsewhere?
The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.
By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.
LAPD INTERNAL AFFAIRS CHANGE-UP
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is reassigning three deputy chiefs, including the head of Internal Affairs, Deputy Chief Mark Perez, to bring in “fresh perspective” to that bureau. It is not yet clear what the tweaking means regarding the department’s discipline policy, but we’ll keep an eye on it.
Perez’s departure from the Professional Standards Bureau, which investigates officers accused of misconduct, is certain to raise some eyebrows within the department. Appointed to the post in 2006 by Beck’s predecessor, William J. Bratton, Perez moved the department away from its traditional approach to disciplining officers that was centered on giving officers incrementally harsher punishments for repeat offenses.
Instead, Perez put in place a system that, as he frequently said, emphasized “strategy over penalty.”
In a brief interview, Beck said he is not looking for McCarthy to dismantle the current discipline system. Except in extreme instances in which he wants the officers fired, Beck said, “I still believe in using methods that reform behavior instead of punish it.”
By the way, today, May 6th, is the cut-off to register to vote in the Los Angeles mayoral runoff on May 21st. Go register! Quick! You can fill out the online application here.
“If you want to change the world, change the metaphor,” said Father Greg Boyle, quoting Bertrand Russell, when he delivered the final speech of the evening at Homeboy Industries’ 25th birthday celebration on Saturday night.
Twenty-five years ago, Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries— before it was Homeboy Industries—changed the metaphor. Rather than demonizing young gang members, Boyle practiced compassion and what he calls kinship. He said that gangs and gang violence were symptoms of “a lethal absence of hope. So you want to infuse young people with hope, when it seems that hope is foreign.”
So Fr. Greg did—and does. And he built an organization to reflect that same sense of compassion and the belief that “we belong to each other.” Lives were changed—and not just those of the homeboys and the homegirls, but of others in the city, many of whom came to celebrate on Saturday night.
Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel was there at the party (shown below with former homegirl, my pal, Frances Aguilar), as was Hilda Solis, Sheriff Lee Baca and other elected officials and policy makers. Eric Garcetti did not attend, but he sent his dad Gil did in his stead.
Happy 25th Birthday Homeboy!
JAILS SUPERVISORS HAD BRIEFING MONDAY ON “RETALIATION”
Newly promoted custody commander Marvin Washington called a meeting on Monday of jail supervisors, including those from OSJ, to talk about the issue of retaliation.
(OSJ is the unit in which deputies Mike Rathbun and James Sexton have been working.)
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed the meeting, saying that Sheriff Baca has long been committed to a firm no retaliation policy, “And the message is finally getting through loud and clear; that you can’t do that!”
About the Sexton/Rathbun lawsuit, Whitmore said that the department is “cooperating fully with the federal investigation,” but also reiterated what he’d earlier told the LA Times, that Sexton and Rathburn “were not retaliated against.”
DO WE STILL HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL? NOT SO’S YOU’D NOTICE. (DEAR SCOTUS, YOU’RE NOT HELPING.)
Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic has a column on the topic of not-terribly-speedy trials, which are now the norm. His doorway into the topic is the matter of a case involving a 7-year wait for trial in Louisiana, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear, and then, this week, decided….um….maybe not.
Here’s a clip from the story:
There has been for decades now an ideological split at the United States Supreme Court over the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial — one of the most basic of due process rights. Court conservatives have successfully limited the scope of the right by justifying and forgiving unconscionable delays in bringing criminal defendants to trial. And the Court’s progressives, outnumbered now for a generation, have complained not just about the unjust results of those cases but about the indigent defense systems which have fostered trial delays in the first place.
And so it is again. On Monday, in a case styled Boyer v. Louisiana, none of the Court’s five conservative justices were willing to come to the aid of a man who had to wait seven years between his arrest and his trial because of a “funding crisis” within Louisiana’s indigent defense program. In fact, those five justices refused even to render a ruling on the merits of the matter, instead deciding after oral argument and all the briefing in the case that their earlier decision to accept the matter for review was “improvident.”
It was left to Justice Samuel Alito to defend the Court’s inaction. The long delay in bringing Jonathan Edward Boyer to trial on murder charges was not just the fault of Louisiana and its infamously underfunded and understaffed indigent defense program, Justice Alito concluded. “['T]he record shows that the single largest share of the delay in this case was the direct result of defense requests for continuances, that other defense motions caused substantial additional delay, and that much of the rest of the delay was caused by events beyond anyone’s control,” he wrote. That was enough to deny Boyer’s claims.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Department of Justice, and the FBI are conducting a tour of Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers on Tuesday. According to the notification passed around to custody personnel, the tour is expected to last for approximately 8 hours, and the feds will be interviewing random inmates and videoing certain areas of the jails.
The tour is reportedly a part of preparations for an upcoming Civil* Grand Jury Inquiry.
LASD spokesman, Steve Whitmore, admitted he was not aware of the tour, but said that the department “welcomed” such inquiries and saw them as beneficial.
*NOTE: We took the designation “civil” grand jury from the LASD internal memo we obtained but, upon reflection, we now suspect that the word was simply incorrect verbiage that we unwittingly repeated, and that the department supervisor who wrote the memo meant the latest federal grand jury to be convened in the ongoing and ever-expanding FBI investigations. If we get further clarification, we’ll let you know.
AFTER DORNER, 40 OTHER COPS WANT THEIR CASES REVIEWED
I’m presuming you’ve seen this story, by the LA Times Joel Rubin, but just in case anyone missed it, about the 40 former LAPD officers who believe their respective cases out to be reviewed.
The news for those officers dismissed who believe their cases are wroth of review is both good and bad.
Here’s a clip that explains the situation:
In the wake of Christopher Dorner’s claim that his firing from the Los Angeles Police Department was a result of corruption and bias, more than three dozen other fired LAPD cops want department officials to review their cases.
The 40 requests, which were tallied by the union that represents rank-and-file officers, have come in the two months since Dorner sought revenge for his 2009 firing by targeting police officers and their families in a killing rampage that left four dead and others injured.
Dorner’s allegations of a department plagued by racism and special interests left Chief Charlie Beck scrambling to stem a growing chorus of others who condemned Dorner’s violence but said his complaints about the department were accurate. To assuage concerns, Beck vowed to re-examine the cases of other former officers who believed they had been wrongly expelled from the force.
Now, details of how the department plans to make good on Beck’s offer are becoming clear. And, for at least some of the disgruntled ex-officers, they will be disappointing.
In letters to those wishing to have their case reviewed, department officials explain that the city’s charter, which spells out the authority granted to various public officials, prevents the police chief from opening new disciplinary proceedings for an officer fired more than three years ago.
“Therefore the Department does not have the power to reinstate officers whose terminations occurred more than three years ago,” wrote Gerald Chaleff, the LAPD’s special assistant for constitutional policing. “You are being informed of this to forestall any misconceptions about the power of the department.”
NY TIMES REPORTS KOCH BROTHERS MAY BE FRONT RUNNERS IN BIDDING TO BUY LA TIMES
On Sunday the USC Campus was gloriously packed with tens of thousands of Lit Lovers as the yearly LA Times Festival of Books entered its second event-jammed day.
However in the “green room” area where author/panelists and LA Times staffers gathered before and after their respective events, amid the upbeat book chatter there were grim conversations about the report by Amy Chozick in the NY Times that politically conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch may be the front runners among suitors to buy the LA Times.
The article suggested that the Koch brothers may have an edge on some of the other would-be buyers like, say, Austin Beutner, who only want to buy the Los Angeles Times and not the rest of the Tribune Corp’s stable of newspapers, whereas the Koches will reportedly bid on the whole shebang. This could be crucial, as the Tribune Corp would reportedly prefer to sell the whole bunch, not piecemeal, paper by paper.
In March the Hilel Aron of the LA Weekly broke the story that the Koch siblings were strongly rumored to be potential bidders.
Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.
By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.
The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.
Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.
One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’ ”
“It was ‘How do we make sure our voice is being heard?’ ”
“So far, they haven’t seemed to be particularly enthusiastic about the role of the free press,” Ms. Mayer said in an e-mail, “but hopefully, if they become newspaper publishers, they’ll embrace it with a bit more enthusiasm.”
A Democratic political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he admired how over decades the brothers have assembled a complex political infrastructure that supports their agenda. A media company seems like a logical next step.
This person said, “If they get some bad press that Darth Vader is buying Tribune, they don’t care.”
Alarming X a zillion.
CALIFORNIA WANTS ITS PRISONS BACK
The NY Times also reports on the issue of whether or not the State of California has done enough to justify taking the state’s prisons out of federal receivership. Near the end of the story, criminal Justice expert Barry Krisberg explains what he thinks it will take.
Barry Krisberg, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on California’s prisons who testified in the 2011 Supreme Court case, said it was unlikely the state would succeed in its appeals because of that 2011 ruling.
“He can’t win these cases,” Mr. Krisberg said, referring to the governor. “In my view, it’s nearly impossible to go to the same Supreme Court and within a year ask them the same question.”
Instead of looking only to realignment, Mr. Krisberg said, the state must consider the politically difficult option of shortening sentences for good behavior, a policy that previous governors have carried out without an increase in crime.
“If they were to restore good-time credits for the people who are doing everything we’re asking of them in prison, they could get these numbers,” he said, referring to the 137.5 percent goal.
CHIEF CHARLIE BECK GIVES “SOUTHLAND” APPEARANCE MONEY TO HOMEBOY INDUSTRY
This story is a small but sweet one. (And we could use sweet stories right now.)
Beck did a cameo for “Southland” recently … and got a check for more than a grand. The Chief could have spent the cash on scores of donuts … but decided there was a worthier cause — he’s donating the money to Homeboy Industries…..
Turns out Beck has another cause celeb … he and some of his boys in blue are lobbying for the return of “Southland” — which is currently on the bubble.
NOTE TO TMZ: We are grateful to you for nosing out this cool little story, but we could have done without the condescending donut cliché. (Just sayin’.)
DENNIS ZINE SAYS, IF ELECTED, CITY CONTROLLER HE WOULD AUDIT THE LAPD’S RISK MANAGEMENT SECTION TO FIND OUT WHY SO MANY OFFICERS ARE INVOLVED IN LAWSUITS (DOESN’T MENTION OWN SEX HARASSMENT LAWSUIT)
Here’s a clip from the story by the LA Times Catherine Saillant:
As he campaigns to become the city’s next controller, Councilman Dennis Zine said his first job in office would be to audit the Los Angeles Police Department’s risk management division to find out why so many officers are involved in lawsuits.
The city has spent as much as $50 million on legal settlements in recent years on cases it could have avoided if commanders did a better job supervising officers, says Zine, a former LAPD motorcycle officer who faces lawyer Ron Galperin in a May 21 runoff election.
What Zine doesn’t mention is a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a female officer claiming that as a police sergeant he made inappropriate sexual advances during a 1997 business trip to Canada. Zine said that the two were dating and that the officer made up or exaggerated her claims….
Whatever the situation with Zine’s own lawsuit, an audit of this nature never hurts, and needn’t be adversarial. In fact, we’d like to see one for the LASD as well.
PS: THE LAPD OFFICERS ACCUSED OF PERJURY WERE AQUITTED
This happened last week, but it bears mentioning. The Daily News’ Eric Hartley has the story. Here’s a clip:
A jury acquitted a Los Angeles police officer and a fired former officer Friday of charges they lied under oath about witnessing a drunken driver.
Lawyers for Craig Allen and Phil Walters admitted the two were wrong when they said they had seen a woman blow through two stop signs and pulled her over. In fact, other LAPD officers had stopped the woman, then called Allen and Walters to the scene to administer sobriety tests.
But the defense attorneys said the two officers made honest mistakes and had no reason to risk their careers by lying about a routine traffic stop.
“We’re all extremely relieved that this nightmare is over,” Walters’ lawyer, Joel Isaacson, said Friday afternoon. “Officer Walters had faith in the system, but it’s a scary situation to go through. ”
The two were charged with perjury and filing a false report, both felonies.
The LAPD fired Allen, now 40, before criminal charges were filed. His lawyer, Bill Seki, said Allen is “praying that he gets his job back” and will ask the department to reconsider the firing.
Walters, 58 and a 23-year veteran, still faces a departmental trial called a Board of Rights that could result in his being cleared, punished or fired. He has been relieved of his police powers and is not being paid, an LAPD spokesman said.
Here’s the back story (scroll to the bottom of the post).
PROP 8 CHALLENGER ATTORNEYS DAVID BOIES AND TED OLSON AFTER TUESDAY’S HEARING
It is still something of a miracle that Constitutional attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson—who fought against each other in Bush v. Gore—have been the lawyers who made this case against Proposition 8 possible.
Here’s their post hearing press conference.
Their clients, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami spoke as well— along with Kris and Sandy’s sons. It is hard to understand how anyone could object to their marrying each other. Very, very hard.
Here, as promised, are a couple of the more intriguing essays and reports on Tuesday morning’s hearing on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.
DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act case—is Wednesday.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? PROP 8 AND PROCREATION
Amy Davidson from the New Yorker focuses on the fertility issue—or whatever it was that Prop 8 attorney, Charles Cooper was nattering on about regarding fertility and marriage.
Here’s a clip:
This is what we’ve come down to: a lawyer arguing, before the Supreme Court, that a ban on same-sex marriage should be upheld in the interest of discouraging elderly heterosexual men from cheating on their similarly aged female partners with younger women who might get pregnant. At least, that is what Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the proponents of California’s Proposition 8, seemed to be saying in his very odd exchange with Justice Elena Kagan. She had pointed out, amid his talk of the “historic traditional procreative purposes” of marriage, that infertile couples have every right to marry.
JUSTICE KAGAN: If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples—both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional—
JUSTICE KAGAN: No, really, because if the couple—I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, society’s—society’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that…
His thought was interrupted by an exchange between the Justices, in which Scalia made a joke about Strom Thurmond—presumably referring to his marriage to a twenty-five-year-old when he was sixty-eight, and not to the daughter he fathered, at the age of twenty-two, with a woman whom it was, at the time, illegal for him to marry in his home state of South Carolina. And then, back to Cooper:
MR. COOPER: Very few men—very few men outlive their own fertility. So I just—
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Why, why, why did no one ask Mr. Cooper at this juncture if postmenopausal women should be forbidden to marry? Why??? A glorious opportunity, lost, LOST, I tell you!)
JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55—
MR. COOPER: I—
JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55.
MR. COOPER: And Your Honor, again, the marital norm which imposes upon that couple the obligation of fidelity…. It’s designed, Your Honor, to make it less likely that either party to that—to that marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage. Outside of that marriage.
Read on. Please, read on. (How can you resist? I mean, really???!)
ONLY SCALIA AND ALITO SEEMED TO CONTINUE TO BACK PROP 8, SAYS UCI LAW SCHOOL DEAN ERWIN CHEMERINSKY
Oh, may he be right! Maura Dolan at the LA Times has the story on Chemerinsky’s opining on the Supremes possible opining. (Plus some counter opining by Prop. 8 advocates.)
Here’s a clip:
One leading law professor said he saw little support on the U.S. Supreme Court for keeping Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at UC Irvine and a constitutional law professor, said a reading of the transcript showed that several justices were particularly concerned about standing, especially Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
If the court dismisses the appeal on standing, the ruling by a federal district judge would probably stand.
“There might be a majority to leave the district judge’s opinion in place,” Chemerinsky said. “On the other hand, it is also possible the court could reach the merits. Only two justices—Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia—seemed clearly supportive of Proposition 8.”
Gay marriage foes expressed confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court could uphold the state’s ban on same-sex unions after hearing arguments Tuesday.
“I think we are going to win this case,” Andy Pugno, lawyer for Proposition 8 campaign, said. “We definitely represented the winning case today and the justices asked good thoughtful questions and we were able to say everything that we wanted to get in front of the court today.”
Pugno, counsel for Protectmarriage.com, said he was unimpressed by the arguments in favor of lifting the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages in California.
Chemerinsky thinks that both Kennedy and Roberts are swing votes, not just Kennedy. I tend to agree—both based on pre-hearing logic re: Roberts and his legacy, and based on Roberts’ behavior in Tuesday’s hearing. Let’s hope they both swing with the tide of history.
TRANSCRIPT AND AUDIO FOR TUESDAY’S HEARING….GRAND THEATER (WITH ENORMOUS AMOUNTS AT STAKE)
If you’d like the full transcript of Tuesday’s hearing plus the audio, NPR has it here.
Charles Cooper, who is attorney for Prop 8, was first up. Cooper is clearly an extremely capable attorney. But he sounded nervous in the beginning, thus was a little wordier than might be optimum and got continually interrupted by impatient and keyed up justices, both on the liberal and the conservative side of the matter.
But then Cooper and the justices all seemed to settle down and the exchanges became legally substantive—even if sometimes a bit odd (as with the procreation, women over 55 section excerpted in the New Yorker story above).
Here are a couple of the more interesting moments:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Outside of the - outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a State using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other rational decision-making that the Government could make? Denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort, any other decision?
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, I cannot. I do not have any — anything to offer you in that regard. I think marriage is -
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: All right. If that - if that is true, then why aren’t they a class? If they’re a class that makes any other discrimination improper, irrational, then why aren’t we treating them as a class for this one thing? Are you saying that the interest of marriage is so much more compelling than any other interest as they could have?
MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, we certainly are not. We — we are saying the interest in marriage and the — and the State ‘s interest and society’s interest in what we have framed as responsible pro - procreation is — is vital, but at bottom, with respect to those interests, our submission is that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are simply not similarly situated.
But to come back to your precise question, I think, Justice Sotomayor, you’re probing into whether or not sexual orientation ought to be viewed as a quasi-suspect or suspect class, and our position is that it does not qualify under this Court’s standard and - and traditional tests for identifying suspectedness.
The — the class itself is — is quite amorphous. It defies consistent definition as — as the Plaintiffs’ own experts were — were quite vivid on. It — it does not — it — it does not qualify as an accident of birth, immutability in that — in that sense.
And then a classic moment in Scalia-osity in which the good justice musingly wondered why he should have to rule on a social issue that he alleged is “newer than cell phones.”
JUSTICE SCALIA: ….Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.
But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we — we are not — we do not have the ability to see the future….
AND IN OTHER NEWS – LAPD OFFICER IS GIVEN 1.2 MILLION IN RACIAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT
On Tuesday, the verdict came in for LAPD officer, Earl Wright, who described harrowing harassment by his supervisor and some other officers at the department’s Central division.
…The testimony by officers during the trial showed Wright “willingly participated in some of the inappropriate behavior and banter,” said Lt. Andy Neiman, a spokesman for the department.
The jury, however, seemed to reject that notion.
In reaching their decision, jurors noted in written records that the LAPD’s procedures for handling harassment claims such as Wright’s were “ineffective,” Smith said.
Beck said in his written response that the department had learned lessons from the Wright case and “has used its experience from the allegations revealed in this case to more aggressively monitor workplace environments and investigate allegations of misconduct.”
Indeed, cop-on-cop accusations of harassment, retaliation and discrimination have bedeviled the LAPD for years, and cost tax payers tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements.
Wright’s verdict is the second seven-figure payout for the city in as many weeks. Last week, the City Council voted to approve a $1.25-million settlement with two lesbian officers who claimed they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their supervisor.
That’s nearly 3 million in harassment settlements in two weeks.
FOXLA News notes that Wright is still working for the LAPD—now at the department’s training division—and still loves his job.
BACA TALKS TO EDITORIAL BOARD OF LA NEWS GROUP AND GETS IMPROVED REVIEWS
The LA News Group includes such newspapers as the LA Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and so on. Earlier this month, the group published a withering critique of Baca, all but calling for his ouster in 2014 when he is up for election.
But after a meeting with Baca this week, while not by any means offering the sheriff any reelection endorsements, the LA News Group’s editorial board was, at least, somewhat less determined to show him the door.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca mentioned two personal goals this week: Winning re-election next year and living to 100. In recent months the latter had seemed more likely than the former.
The dedicated runner’s physical fitness wasn’t in doubt, but his fitness for office was. After revelations about the unwarranted use of violence by sheriff’s deputies, Baca initially passed the blame to subordinates. A citizen’s commission probing jail violence cited a “failure of leadership. ”
By last fall, the question had become whether Baca, 70, should resign before scandal or voters forced him out.
But the Lee Baca who visited the Los Angeles News Group editorial board this week, to outline responses to the problems in the Sheriff’s Department, appeared as fully committed and as creative as ever in his approach to his huge job. It is still not clear that Baca deserves a fifth term, any more than it was clear before that he doesn’t. But it is clear that Baca will not be easily brushed aside in 2014.
The question now is whether Baca’s wide-ranging responses to the scandals makes up for his inability to prevent them.
The editorial also mentions that, in answer to questions about the exit of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca said he managed to “finess” Tanaka into leaving.
Here’s the clip:
…More-impressive responses are Baca’s admissions that much of the ACLU’s criticism is correct, and his actions to get to the systemic roots of issues instead of merely blaming underlings.
One was Baca’s move to “finesse” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka into announcing his retirement – and then to essentially eliminate the position. Baca thinks this removes a barrier to communication between him and assistant sheriffs.
The insistence on using the word “finesse” to describe his ouster of Tanaka is classic Baca….
In other words, the retirement announcement was not about the undersheriff’s sudden urge to play more golf, after all.
ASSESSING OUTGOING MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA’S PUBLIC SAFETY REPORT CARD
KPCC’s Frank Stolze talks to a list of LA experts about how Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa should be rated as a public safety mayor.
The reviews are generally good, but qualified with the admonition that Antonio was also the beneficiary of some very good luck.
Villaraigosa’s largest stroke of good fortune was his inheritance of Bill Bratton as LAPD’s chief after James Hahn arguably lost the mayoral election to Antonio because he fired Bernard Parks, “a beloved figure in the black community. Hahn lost his once bedrock support among African-Americans.”
(It should be noted that Parks had come to be roundly loathed by the rank and file, who felt that, as chief, he punished them for small infractions while letting his friends do what they pleased. He also alienated the press, members of the DA’s office, and most of city hall for his obstructive handling of the Rampart investigation.)
But while Villaraigosa may not get credit for bringing Bratton to LA, Stoltze reports he does get credit for working very well with him.
Here’s a clip:
In a sense, Villaraigosa lucked out.
“I think he was the beneficiary of the very tough decision that Jim Hahn made,” said UCLA Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology Jorja Leap, who studies crime in L.A. “I don’t think Jim Hahn is given enough credit.”
Villaraigosa embraced Bratton, who receives a lot of credit for turning the LAPD around and delivering the dramatic drops in crime by introducing new technology and cooperating more with federal agencies. The mayor also deserves praise for working with the chief to repair long-frayed police-community relations, said Alex Alonso, who monitors gangs and policing on his StreetGangs.com website.
“Chief Bratton and Villaraigosa showed up at churches, showed up at community meetings,” Alonso said. “That’s definitely a plus. Going to the ghettto.”
Villaraigosa also is praised, reports Stoltze, for embracing non-law-enforcement-centric strategies for crime reduction.
While she’d like to see more funding for the GRYD program (it receives about $25 million annually), Kayle Shilling of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater L.A. said she’s glad Villaraigosa embraced the gang strategy along with more police — even if it was four years into his administration.
“There are a lot of different approaches in Los Angeles and I think it just takes folks a little while to get up to speed,” Shilling said. “I think he’s landed in a good place.”
Villaraigosa can hardly take sole credit for the historic crime drop that began before he took office. Community groups — some led by former gang members — are more involved than ever in reducing violence.
“You have a lot of other things going on outside of City Hall and outside of government,” said Alonso of StreetGangs.com. “You have nonprofit organizations, you have a lot of gang intervention workers. The mindset is changing within South L.A.”
But with Villaraigosa’s help, the mindset on how to tackle crime has changed at City Hall, too.
AND JUST A REMINDER….NEXT WEEK THE U.S. SUPREME COURT WILL HEAR THE TWO GAY MARRIAGE CASES
We’ll be linking to what we see to be the best of the commentary. So buckle-up and hang on.
Here, for example, is an explanatory story from Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers.
And here’s an interesting blog post by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the non-Prop 8 case, that of Edie Windsor. As she writes, Davidson helpfully links to some of the best essays on the two cases.
In both instances, the chief said that the department is going to conduct anonymous survey of more than 500 of its officers about issues of racism, discipline, and a list of related issues, the idea being to find out what officers think and experience that they may not be willing to come forward to say.
On Larry Mantle’s show Beck and Mantle also had an interesting exchange about whether or not the chief would ever endorse one local candidate over the other. The answer was NO—”Unless I believed that person was dangerous to the city.” Even then, Beck suggested, he would likely say something behind the scenes, not as a public statement.
This is, of course, quite different than the point of view Sheriff Lee Baca has taken. (In the past, Baca has endorsed candidates for City attorney and for LA’s District Attorney, among others.)
FoxLA reports on a lawsuit brought by Earl Wright, an LAPD officer alleging racial harassment on the job at LAPD’s Central station, as recently as 2010. (The lawsuit was filed in April 2012, but is just now coming to court.)
Here’s the complaint if you wish to read it. If true, it describes a climate of ongoing racial harassment—with liberal references to watermelon and the n-word. According to the complaint, the harassment was not limited to Wright, but states he observed an Asian American officer being similarly harassed, and also a female colleague, who was allegedly sexually harassed then pressed not to report it. In many cases, the incidents were allegedly caused by same officer who, according to the complaint, supervisors declined to reprimand.
NEW LASD ASSISTANT CHIEF TERRI MCDONALD TO BE ON WHICH WAY LA?
The LASD’s new Assistant Chief in charge of custody is scheduled to appear on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? today Thursday. She is also expected to be interviewed by Patt Morrison for the LA Times in the next day or so.
CA CONSERVATIVE LAWMAKERS INTRODUCED THEIR PACKET OF REALIGNMENT BILLS ON TUESDAY
The threatened cluster of counter-Realignment bills were introduced into committee on Tuesday. The idea of increasing penalties for those who take off or disable their GPS bracelets (introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu) is one that we think has merit, if written correctly.
As for the rest….we’ll be keeping an eye on them. Public hysteria plus shoddy reporting, like we have too often seen on this topic, usually makes for bad laws.
AND SPEAKING OF LEGISLATION….CONGRESSMAN BOBBY SCOTT WILL BE INTRODUCING THE YOUTH PROMISE ACT TODAY, THURSDAY
We’ve been fans of the Youth Promise Act for a long time. But although it has, in the past, gathered lots of sponsors, it has not gotten very far in terms of passage. But times are changing. Here’s some info on the bill from Scott’s site:
Under the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act (H.R. 2721), communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges will be able to develop a comprehensive response to youth violence through a coordinated prevention and intervention response. Representatives from local law enforcement, the school system, court services, social services, health and mental health providers, foster care providers, other community and faith-based organizations will form a council to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. The plans can be funded up to four years. The act also enhances state and local law enforcement efforts regarding youth and gang violence.
Nothing in the Youth PROMISE Act eliminates any of the current tough on crime laws, and while it is understood that law enforcement will still continue to enforce those laws, research tells us that no matter how tough we are on the people we prosecute today, unless we are addressing the underlying root causes of criminal activity, nothing will change.
Aside from reducing crime and providing better results in the lives of our youth, many of the programs funded under the Youth PROMISE Act will save more money than they cost. The State of Pennsylvania implemented a process very similar to the one provided for in the Youth PROMISE Act in 100 communities across the state. The state found that it saved, on average, $5 for every $1 spent during the study period…
CAN SMART PHONE TECHNOLOGY IMPROVE AMERICA’S INCARCERATION POLICY?
Prison Recidivism? There’s an app for that! Or, at least, there could be soon.
Among the many tech-entrepreneurs and innovators who gathered at SXSW in Austin, Texas for sessions, presentations, and pitches at the Next-Big-Thing-packed interactive media conference that is one of SXSW’s most popular features, a presentation by a tech thinktank focused on how prisons can use digital technology to reduce recidivism, was one of those that stood out.
The public radio show, “The Takeaway” has the story. Here’s a clip:
Kara Shuler, senior consultant for Deloitte, suggested “virtual incarcerations,” where nonviolent, low-level offenders are taken out of prison cells with support and monitoring that keeps both the community and the offender safe.
Nonviolent, low-level offenders cost as much as other prisoners, or more, because spending time in prison can put them at risk for committing worse crime in the future. In New Jersey, it costs more to keep someone in prison for a year than it would to send them to Princeton University, Zomorodi said.
The SXSW panelist told the story of an inmante named Frank, who was charged with marijuana possession.
Rather than give Frank a prison sentence, he could be virtually incarcerated, receiving badges or points via a smart phone for accomplishments like keeping a job and making it to his counseling sessions, Zomorodi said.
When a court determines a low-level criminal is a good candidate for the smart phone program, they would be equipped with an ankle-monitoring device to track them with GPS, and given a locked smartphone with specific apps related to their needs, Shuler said.
“Frank’s app might be Breathalyze, an app that detects the eye movements in the camera on your phone,” she said.
A key to the success of such a program, said its proponents, is choosing appropriate candidates for it.
NEWSPAPER WOMEN SHOT DURING DORMER NIGHTMARE GET THEIR TRUCK (OR AT LEAST $$ TO BUY IT)
In case you didn’t see that there was, thankfully, a resolution to Wednesday’s crazy situation in which the newspaper women, whose truck was shot up by the Los Angeles Police Department during the search for Christopher Dorner, couldn’t take the replacement truck that the LAPD wanted to give them, unless they paid a bunch of income taxes on said vehicle. The solution? The LAPD is giving the women $40,000 in cash, and the women can buy their own truck, no taxes involved.
FOR SCOTUS CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, GAY RIGHTS MAY BE HIS DEFINING MOMENT
Jess Brevin of The Wall Street Journal has an intriguing story about the complexities Chief Justice John Roberts is facing as he and the court move toward hearing the gay marriage cases late in March. (If you’re not a WSJ subscriber, you can get past the paywall for this particular article through Google News.)
Here’s a clip:
Chief Justice John Roberts preserved one of President Barack Obama’s main legacies—and helped forge his own—by largely upholding the president’s health-care law last year. Now, the two leaders’ places in history are entwined again, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear two gay-marriage cases later this month.
After years of equivocation, Mr. Obama in recent months has planted himself firmly in favor of gay marriage, and his administration is now asking the court to strike down separate federal and state laws withholding marriage rights from same-sex couples. “American attitudes have evolved, just like mine have, pretty substantially and fairly quickly, and I think that’s a good thing,” Mr. Obama recently told ABC News. In 2012, for the first time, a slight majority of Americans favored same-sex marriage, according to data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, with young people especially supportive.
Chief Justice Roberts doubtless knows “that history is going in a certain direction,” even if he isn’t persuaded that the Constitution requires invalidation of laws denying recognition to gay marriages, said Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University. If that leads him to side against Mr. Obama’s position, it could place the chief justice in “a tragic kind of position—knowing how a decision they believe is correct today is going to look bad 15 years down the road.”
As is customary, Chief Justice Roberts had no comment regarding pending cases, his office said.
Supreme Court history is littered with rulings that were later viewed as retrograde, if not obviously in error. In 1944, the court upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans—leading to a congressional apology in 1988. And in 2003, the court overturned its own 1986 decision that had permitted criminal punishment for gay sex. That 2003 opinion, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, flatly declared that the prior decision “was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today.
But history’s direction can confound expectations. At the time of the high court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, abortion appeared to be gaining broader support. Four decades later, the procedure’s morality remains fiercely disputed, and some—including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who favors abortion rights—suggest the court’s intervention triggered a backlash against wider acceptance of abortion rights….
EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE’S NOT REALLY ANY NEWSWORTHY REASON FOR POSTING THE VIDEO ABOVE OF SHERIFF LEE BACA ON BLACK BELT TV. WE JUST KINDA LIKED IT.)
THE CONSERVATIVE CASE AGAINST MORE PRISONS
The latest issue of The American Conservative has an interesting article by Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin about how it is conservatives who are leading the charge against lowering America’s prison populations.
Leading the charge might be an overstatement. But conservative groups are having an important and measurable effect on policy, where all but the most liberal of democrats are lagging behind.
The reform of 3-Strikes in California simply would not have passed had it not been for the help of some of the conservatives from the Right on Crime movement.
In any case, here are a couple of clips from TAC’s story.
Since the 1980s, the United States has built prisons at a furious pace, and America now has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. 716 out of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. By comparison, in England and Wales, only 149 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Australia—famously founded as a prison colony—the number is 130. In Canada, the number is 114.
Prisons, of course, are necessary. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne observed that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil… as the site of a prison.” As long as there are people, there will be conflict and crime, and there will be prisons. Prisons, however, are not a source of pride. An unusually high number of prison cells signals a society with too much crime, too much punishment, or both.
There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.
Between 1992 and 2011, the U.S. prison population increased by nearly 73 percent. To the extent that the recent rise in incarceration incapacitated violent offenders, it was valuable. For nonviolent offenders who are not career criminals, however, incarceration can be counterproductive. As is sometimes said, prisons are graduate schools for crime. This is more than apparent in numerous states where recidivism rates exceed 60 percent.
Unnecessary incarceration of nonviolent, low-level offenders also destroys families. Mitch Pearlstein at Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment has pointed out that incarcerated men “are less attractive marriage partners, not just because they may be incarcerated, but because rap sheets are not conducive to good-paying, family-supporting jobs.” It is common sense that neighborhoods suffering from high incarceration rates also suffer a plague of single-parent homes and troubled children.
This, in turn, leads to dysfunctional communities that are mistrustful of law enforcement. Most American children are taught that they may always ask the police for help. In some American neighborhoods, however, children are taught never to engage with the police.
For this—high recidivism rates, ravaged families, and maladjusted neighborhoods—Americans pay dearly. In 2011, Americans spent over $63 billion on corrections, a 300 percent increase since 1980. Prisons are the second-fastest growing component of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid….
YES, THERE HAVE BEEN SOME ANECDOTAL PROBLEMS WITH REALIGNMENT, BUT THE PROBLEMS WE’D HAVE HAD WITHOUT COULD HAVE BEEN FAR WORSE
I realize we’re starting to get boring on this topic. But a refreshingly sane editorial in the Ventura County Star, gave us an opportunity to harp on this issue that has been dreadfully reported by many journalists around the state (with some notable exceptions, like the LA Times, which has been great).
As crime statistics for 2012 gradually filter in from around the state, gripes about the 15-month-old prison realignment program have begun rising in newspaper headlines and talk show airwaves.
There are two major complaints: One is that crime rose as realignment cut the inmate populace by more than 24,000.
The other is that some criminals are being released earlier than before the program began in October 2011, in part because local jails in a few counties are overcrowded.
A typical gripe comes from Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the state’s largest police union. “Our members are terribly concerned that we are allowing people out of prisons who are likely to recommit crimes and victimize the people of our city,” he said in a telephone interview.
He claimed probation departments have lost track of some former prisoners, but could offer no specific examples. “All I have is anecdotal information,” he conceded.
It turns out that only one of those big gripes has any proven merit…
Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced Assembly Bill 601 to allow parole violators to be returned to state prison for up to one year.
AB 2, authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would return sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison “to serve any sentence ordered for that violation.”
Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, earlier proposed Senate Bill 57, which would make removal of a GPS monitoring device an additional crime requiring a prison sentence of 16 months, two years or three years
WitnessLA agrees that some fine tuning and closing of certain loopholes is needed, but the devil will be in the details. What we do not want to see is an emotional rush to return to the bad old days that produced overcrowded prisons with little or no positive effect on public safety.
PREDICTIVE POLICING: THE PROS AND CONS OF USING ALGORITHMS TO DRIVE PROACTIVE COP WORK
The LAPD has been running a pilot program of a strategy called predictive policingthat uses a combination of updated crime statistics, technology and algorithms to predict areas ripe for crime so that police can be ready and move in to prevent crime and/or make arrests in the moment rather than trying to solve the crimes afterward.
An intriguing article in the Gardian by columnist/author Evgany Morzov cautions that, while the program seems very promising now, targeting crime before it happens can be a mighty slippery slope.
Here’s a clip from the close of his story:
The promise of predictive policing might be real, but so are its dangers. The solutionist impulse needs to be restrained. Police need to subject their algorithms to external scrutiny and address their biases. Social networking sites need to establish clear standards for how much predictive self-policing they’ll actually do and how far they will go in profiling their users and sharing this data with police. While Facebook might be more effective than police in predicting crime, it cannot be allowed to take on these policing functions without also adhering to the same rules and regulations that spell out what police can and cannot do in a democracy. We cannot circumvent legal procedures and subvert democratic norms in the name of efficiency alone.
And, of course, it bears remembering that it was those Masters of the Algorithmic Universe—the Wall Street genius “quants”—who, to a great degree brought us the 2008. So, yeah, full speed ahead, but with ethics intact, and a good hold on common sense and caution.