GOV. JERRY BROWN TAKES ACTION ON TONS OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS
Over the weekend, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed (and vetoed) a number of notable criminal justice-related bills we have been following at WLA.
Also among the ranks of passed bills was SB 261, a bill to expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. (In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. SB 261 extends the reach of that 2013 bill.)
The bill was sponsored by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Youth Justice Coalition (YJC).
“If a young person demonstrates personal growth and rehabilitation, and shows remorse for their crime, they deserve a second chance,” says ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick. “This new law holds young people accountable for the mistakes they have made, but also offers them compassion and the opportunity to begin contributing positively to their communities.”
“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at HRW. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”
A bill to ban strip searches of kids in juvenile detention by (or in front of) members of the opposite gender was also signed into law on Saturday. The bill, AB 303, was introduced in response to reports of San Diego juvie detention officers pepper spraying young inmates who refused to be searched by staff of the opposite gender.
Another new law, AB 256, will protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), will make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Other notable signings include a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to provide the DOJ with detailed use of force reports and data, a bill to curb prosecutorial misconduct, two bills to boost mental health training for law enforcement, and a mental health diversion bill.
A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), SB 333, would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.
Brown also vetoed SB 722, a bill by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), that would have made it a felony for sex offenders on parole to remove or tamper with their GPS tracking devices.
Expressing her disappointment at the veto, Sen. Bates said, “If anyone deserves to serve longer prison terms, then it should be violent sex offenders who tamper with their GPS devices.”
And SB 347 would have added two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).
The governor vetoed a several other bills that would have created new crimes, saying, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”
“Before we keep going down this road,” continued Brown, “I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”
THREAT ASSESSMENT TEAMS AND WHAT IT TAKES TO DETECT AND PREVENT MASS KILLINGS
Mother Jones’ Mark Follman has an excellent longread on threat assessment teams and how they root out and prevent school shootings.
Threat assessment teams comprised of cops, psychologists, and counselors, successfully divert and treat young people at risk of harming others via a strategy that includes identifying and quickly and carefully evaluating a person’s risk of harming others, followed by intervention efforts like counseling, mentoring, and other services.
It’s rare that a team has to go so far as to hospitalize or arrest a person.
The risk assessment is an interesting and complicated process for law enforcement officers, especially because their subject has committed no crime.
Mass shootings are nearly always carefully planned—usually by a young white male in the midst of a mental health crisis. These massacres are not impulsive crimes.
The concept of multidisciplinary efforts to prevent mass killings began as an LAPD response to public outrage after 21-year-old actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was fatally shot by an obsessive fan.
The specialized teams seem to be working, for the most part. According to the FBI, of the hundreds of subjects its team has tracked, only one has gone on to harm someone else. But cases still slip through the cracks, and it’s hard to tell when a person no longer needs the intervention services. Some of the monitored young people who appear well and out of crisis mode still go on to commit those mass murders, just years later.
Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona, were both evaluated by threat assessment teams before their rampages.
One troubled Oregon teen, Erik Ayala, whom law enforcement found to be contemplating shooting fellow classmates, received years of help and mentorship from an assessment team. The team believed they had successfully navigated Ayala through his crisis and diverted him from a path of violence, but years after his intervention, Ayala went out and killed teens very similar to those he targeted in high school.
Here’s the opening from Mark Follman’s story on the assessment teams, the copycat killer trend known as the “Columbine effect,” and gun control (but do go read the rest):
Soon after the school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that “he was mad at ‘preps’ and was going to bring a gun in.” Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that “he was not happy with school or with himself” but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with “numerous mental disorders,” according to the police officer’s report.
To most people, Ayala’s suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district’s threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised “preps” and wished he could “just go out and kill a few of them.” He went online to try to buy a gun. And he’d drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.
The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn’t have any weapons, they launched a “wraparound intervention”—in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.
“He was a very gifted, bright young man,” recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. “A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts.”
As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do “check and connects” with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler’s outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.
When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry’s Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.
The two teams “successfully interrupted Ayala’s process of planning to harm people,” Van Dreal says. “We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety.”
But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.
A TASER FOR EVERY LAPD COP
In the coming months, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip every officer with a taser, in an effort to lower the number of officer-involved shootings. Currently the LAPD only has 3,500 tasers, and will need to buy 4,000 more to equip every police officer. Critics worry that because there are not concrete standards in place for taser-use, the tools may be misused. And while considered a “less-than-lethal” weapon, people do sometimes die after being shocked by a law enforcement officer taser. For example, Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless Fullerton man died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by police officers.
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.
“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.
It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.
“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”
One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.
“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.
This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.
He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.