Violent crime in California jumped 10 percent last year

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California violent crime increased 10 percent last year, the first rise since 2012, according to a report Friday from Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The number of violent crimes reached 166,588 in 2015, about 15,000 more than the previous year. Aside from the small uptick four years ago, and a few earlier blips, violent crime has been on a steady decrease over the last two decades.

The new report said homicides increased 9.7 percent, robberies rose 8.5 percent and aggravated assaults were up 8 percent.

Rapes increased 36 percent, to 12,793 from 9,397. …

San Francisco police union rejects outside criticism

Police carThe abrupt May 19 resignation of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr after police Sgt. Justin Erb shot and killed Jessica Williams, an unarmed African-American woman fleeing in a stolen car, drew national and international attention to the city’s Police Department. Its officers are accused of callously killing minority crime suspects and homeless people and some have been embroiled in a scandal for more than a year involving racist and homophobic text messages.

In the normal dynamics of government scandal and dysfunction, leaders identify a problem and work to address it, seeking to win media and public approval. But what’s going on in San Francisco reflects the normal dynamics of law-enforcement scandals. Police officers who feel underappreciated — even besieged since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2014 —push back hard at the idea that they’re doing something fundamentally wrong, even when it comes to police killings of unarmed people.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association denounced Mayor Ed Lee’s decision to ask Suhr to quit. “His retirement under pressure is an extreme loss to the department and the city,” a union statement said. “Chief Suhr, at the core, was and always will be a cop’s cop and dedicated to the men and women who don the uniform every day to serve and protect.”

This attitude doesn’t bode well for interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin, who told reporters that his agenda was “reform, reform, reform” because “the department has to move forward.”

But despite the praise for Suhr from the police union, the fatal May 18 shooting of the stolen-car suspect was one more example of his lack of control over his department. Suhr has long implored officers not to shoot into fleeing cars. The police union had also criticized his response to the text-message scandal, including his demanding that officers sign a pledge essentially promising to not be bigots.

Union: “Protect due process” of accused officers

There are presently 18 police officers accused in the texting scandal. While police union president Martin Halloran condemned “the appalling racist behavior committed by a handful of officers,” he also said the police union would closely scrutinize the disciplinary process to ensure it “protects the due process rights of the officers.”

Those right are so strong that it is often difficult to fire a police officer in California unless he commits a crime or acts in egregious ways with indisputable evidence. It’s also difficult to even find out about officer misconduct, as the Los Angeles Times reported in April.

Nearly 40 years ago, California took its first steps to shield police misconduct from the public when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in his first term restricting details of officer personnel files from disclosure. A 2006 California Supreme Court decision went further and extended the law’s protections to cases in which civil service commissions weighed in on officer discipline. Today, almost all details about misconduct — including cases in which police officers were found to have used excessive force, engaged in racial profiling or lied on the job — are kept secret outside of court, administrative or civilian review board proceedings.

And although 23 states keep most public employee personnel records confidential, California is one of just three to provide specific protections for police information, according to a recent investigation by WNYC, a public radio station in New York.

Partly in response to the problems in his home town, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced SB 1286 that would open up police records in cases of “serious misconduct.” It passed an initial Senate committee vote last month, but then died without a second vote on Friday.

But as Conor Friedersdorf reported last August in The Atlantic, many police reform efforts have been launched in the Golden State only to go nowhere.

What’s next in San Francisco?

Meanwhile, Mayor Lee is facing pressure from the most liberal members of the city’s Board of Supervisors to go after bad cops. Supervisor Jane Kim, a rising star in city politics, has been pushing for change for more than four years and now has more support than ever.

But the police union thinks that Lee has already done too much to address police controversies.

On May 26th Mayor Ed Lee made some very disturbing remarks to the San Francisco Chronicle. These comments were directed at the SFPD Sergeant who was forced to discharge his firearm in the Officer Involved Shooting last week. The Mayor’s remarks were prejudicial and irresponsible. The POA has always responded to misinformed politicians who make such inflammatory statements and the Mayor is no exception.

That’s from Friday post on the police union’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department continues its investigation of the San Francisco Police Department, launched in February. It’s not clear when the federal probe will conclude.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Wrongful convictions cost California taxpayers $282 million over 24 years, study finds

As reported by the Washington Post:

A California research project tried to do something no one’s ever done: determine the total cost of wrongful convictions. That cost being not just the settlements paid to innocent defendants, but the unnecessary costs of prosecuting and incarcerating them, plus the total legal bills of their criminal trials and appeals.

Beginning the project in 2012 and working backwards to 1989, the study found 692 people who were convicted of felonies in California but whose cases were later dismissed or acquitted on retrial. Those people spent a total of 2,346 years in custody and cost California taxpayers an estimated $282 million when adjusted for inflation, according to the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, which released the study last week.

Now for some scale: Those 692 failed convictions over 24 years were part of a California system that convicts more than 200,000 people every year. Some may argue, the report notes, that 692 mistakes over more than two decades “reflects an acceptable rate of error. We reject the proposition that an acceptable rate of error can apply to proceedings that impact people’s lives in the way that criminal prosecution can…Just as with airline safety and medical mistakes, the acceptable rate of error is zero and that should be the goal.”

The researchers also note …

Click here to read the full story

Apple headed for showdown over San Bernardino shooter’s phone

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Apple’s refusal to help the FBI access information from the retrieved cell phone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook sets up a long-brewing confrontation between Silicon Valley and members of Congress including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator.

Apple’s rejection of a court order demanding the company unlock the phone represents a pivotal crossroads in a growing debate over digital privacy versus security and is likely to determine whether law enforcement can access data that increasingly is being encrypted.

The outcome of the battle also will have implications not only for the growing use of cell phones in business transactions but for the ability of foreign governments such as China to pry into the personal lives of their citizens, analysts of the dispute said. …

Click here to read the full article

Superbowl Spotlight Bad Timing for SF Police

San Francisco, CA, USAThe global spotlight on the Bay Area created by Super Bowl 50 couldn’t have come at a worse time for the San Francisco Police Department. The fatal December shooting of Mario Woods, a young African American stabbing suspect who was shot by five officers as he walked away from them, continues to trigger increasingly regular protests.

Now the U.S. Justice Department has concluded that there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing that it is going to review SFPD and its history. Yahoo News has details:

“We will examine the San Francisco Police Department’s current operational policies, training practices and accountability systems, and help identify key areas for improvement going forward,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

At the conclusion of the review, the Justice Department will give San Francisco police a list of best practices it can follow to ensure fairness in its interactions with citizens.

San Francisco police will then report back to the Justice Department on a periodic basis to show it is following the practices, a Justice Department official said.

The ACLU of Northern California and African American activists welcomed the announcement.

Officers asked to pledge not to be racists

Meanwhile, San Francisco police are also being called out, in essence, by their chief, who is asking them to pledge to not act like racists, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“People that would use racial epithets, slurs and things like that clearly fall below the minimum standard of being a police officer,” Police Chief Greg Suhr [said]. “A cop needs to show character and point that out.”

Suhr noted that a website — notonmywatchsfpd.org — had been launched to emphasize what he expects out of his officers. This is from its “About” description:

SFPD created the Not On My Watch initiative … in an effort to improve relationships between police officers and the diverse communities they serve.

This first-of-its-kind pledge is about recognizing that we need to guard against our own implicit biases,” said SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, “and to call out anyone who is intolerant or bigoted.”

Since 2011, SFPD policy has prohibited biased policing. The inspiration for the Not On My Watch project came from SFPD Sergeant Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice. “It tells everyone that I am going to treat them with dignity and respect,” said Sgt. Williams. “And at the same time, we’re encouraging them to trust us, respect us and allow us to help them by delivering the type of police service that makes for viable, stable communities.”

Selling police chief as idealist may prove difficult

This initiative may play well in San Francisco and nationallly, but Suhr’s critics will question his sincerity and idealism. He’s had to deal with two rounds of harsh news coverage since last summer.

The city had to spend nearly $1.5 million to defend him from a whistleblower’s lawsuit with embarrassing allegations andpersuasive evidence that Suhr mishandled a domestic violence case to help a friend.

He’s also accused of giving special breaks to a family friend in his attempt to secure a job as a San Francisco officer.

Debate Rages Over CA Death Penalty

Death PenaltyObliged by a court settlement to figure out a new method of capital punishment, California officials have exacerbated the state’s protracted debate over executions by settling on a different kind of lethal injection.

With a widespread shortage of execution drugs used in the now-familiar “cocktails,” officials have now aimed to “let corrections officials choose from four types of powerful barbiturates to execute prisoners,” according to KCRA Sacramento. “A choice would be made for each execution, depending on which drug is available. The single drug would replace the series of three drugs that were last used in 2006, when 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen was executed for ordering a triple murder.”

“The plan to use barbiturates to execute inmates sentenced to die in the most populous U.S. state drew fire from religious activists, who called capital punishment grisly and anti-democratic at a hearing in Sacramento,” Reuters reported. “Law-and-order advocates urged its adoption.”

“If the new protocol is adopted by corrections officials and voters do not outlaw the death penalty next November, the state could theoretically begin executing 18 prisoners who have exhausted their appeals. Legal challenges to the lethal injection drug, however, could drag on for years.”

Opponents of the new plan insisted that it amounted to a trial-and-error approach. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is suing to obtain at least 79,000 corrections department documents related to lethal injections,” KCRA noted. “It says the regulations may lack enough safeguards to prevent the state from using backdoor ways to obtain execution drugs that manufacturers never intended for that purpose.” Past cocktails have been harshly criticized for sometimes failing to execute inmates as quickly and painlessly as lethal injection was intended to do.

Languishing inmates

Much of the frustration around the issue stems from the unique backlog that has built up on the state’s Death Row. “It’s been 10 years since California executed its last death row inmate. Since then, the death row population has grown to 745,” KQED noted. “Since 1978, 117 death row inmates have died, the vast majority from natural causes and suicide.”

Although California’s Death Row has ballooned to an extraordinary size over the years, other states have found themselves burdened by court requirements in similar ways. Florida, second to California in the size of its death row population, recently faced a Supreme Court ruling that has thrown the status of its condemned inmates into question. “Death penalty prosecutions are stalled, and state lawmakers are hustling to write and pass a new death penalty law before their session ends in six weeks,” the New York Times reported. “Also in question is whether the 390 inmates awaiting execution in Florida will remain on death row or be resentenced to life in prison.” The predicament, which has gained the attention of reformers and activists across  the political spectrum, has contributed to the rise of execution reform as a hot-button issue around the country.

Divided opinion

California’s own controversy has strengthened amid a sharp divide in statewide public opinion over capital punishment. Voters, a new poll found, have “now equally divided between scrapping the death penalty altogether and speeding up the path to executing inmates on the nation’s largest death row,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. “The poll found that 47 percent of voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California, up from 40 percent in 2014. But at the same time, the poll shows that 48 percent of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate the state’s notoriously slow system of resolving death penalty appeals to pick up the pace of executions.” Both those proposals were likely to wind up on this election year’s ballot in the form of initiatives.

Opinions have split even among Death Row inmates themselves. “Opinions vary, just like I’m sure they vary on the outside,” one inmate, Charles Crawford II, told KQED. “Some of us are against it, some of us not so much. Some of us, it’s like if they’re going to do it, do it and not have us sittin’ here for 20 or 30 years.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

S.F. police chief to renew push to equip officers with stun guns

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr plans to reintroduce the contentious issue of equipping officers with stun guns at next week’s Police Commission meeting.

The chief said after Wednesday’s meeting that conductive energy devices — better known by the name of the most popular brand, Tasers — will be referenced in the new draft of the department’s revised use-of-force policy that he will present next week.

Though he would not provide specific details as to what he is proposing with Tasers, he has tried in the past to arm only officers trained in crisis intervention, to use on subjects in mental distress with whom officers can’t reason.

The revival of a stun gun plan has long been anticipated in the wake of the fatal shooting of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old man whose family said he suffered from psychiatric issues. The review of the department’s policies is part of a series of reforms the city has proposed following the Dec. 2 incident.

Click here to read the full story

Will New Initiative Add to Current Crime Problem?

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

At about the same time Gov. Jerry Brown was explaining his new initiative to reform the determinate sentencing law, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was telling Town Hall Los Angeles that law enforcement was facing a losing battle with crime. The sheriff argued that ballot measures back to Proposition 36 in 2000 easing drug punishment through Proposition 47 voiding prison for some felonies and AB109 prison realignment have led to increased crime.

Will Brown’s new initiative proposal add to the crime problem by making it easier for non-violent offenders to gain parole?

Sen. Jim Nielsen thinks so. He stated in a press release: “Violent and property crimes have increased in cities across the state from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Weakening the criminal justice system will only increase the victimization of California citizens.”

Nielsen laid the fault in the crime increase at Proposition 47, which reduced many felonies and misdemeanors, allowing arrestees to escape the threat of prison.

Sheriff McDonnell said he supported the spirit of what Prop. 47 was trying to do but fixes are needed because it is not working. Prior to Prop. 47, a criminal arrested for stealing goods valued less than $950, or on certain drug charges, faced either time in jail or a treatment program. McDonnell said the leverage of jail time no longer exists. People know they won’t get locked up for a theft under $950, he said.

The sheriff said the AB109 prison re-alignment law put state prison inmates in county jails, which are not equipped to handle them. Jails are intended to house people pre-trial, not to house long-term prisoners, McDonnell said. One state prisoner shifted to the L.A. county jail is serving a 42-year term.

The realignment program was designed to free up space in state prisons. Brown’s proposed initiative would further that goal by giving judges and parole boards more discretion.

Allowing judges to judge specific circumstances and mete out appropriate justice is a common sense philosophy.

But at what cost to public safety?

While McDonnell said it wasn’t his intention to bash Prop. 47, he noted that crime in the county was up 11.2 percent over the last year with 40 percent of those freed under Prop. 47 re-arrested. One individual has been re-arrested 22 times.

McDonnell said he wanted to work with Prop. 47 supporters to meet the goals of the initiative while at the same time adding fixes that return incentive and disincentives for individuals to obey the law.

One Prop. 47 supporter who listened to the sheriff speak was Tom Hoffman, a long time law enforcement official who serves as a Senior Public Safety Adviser for the non-profit Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization that advocated for Proposition 47.

Hoffman took exception to the sheriff putting responsibility of increased crime on Prop. 47. Hoffman said crime statistics all across the country have gone up about the same rate as in California.

Given reports of increased crime issued by the police and a recent spike in gun sales, it can be assumed citizens of California feel less safe. Yet, the governor’s initiative is counting on a changed attitude toward crime and punishment as indicated by the passage of Proposition 47 and the Three Strike law reform.

A couple of months ago I wrote that a spike in crime could bring back the rise of politicians like former Gov. George Deukmejian who rode a tough-on-crime image to high state offices. If the Brown gambit adds to the perception that crime is increasing because of government actions there likely could be a political push-back.

CA Traffic Citation Amnesty Law Gives Drivers Relief

Financially strapped motorists are catching a break through the state’s traffic citation amnesty law, which began in October and gives discounts of up to 80 percent on unpaid traffic tickets due before Jan. 1, 2013.

In Los Angeles Superior Court, $2.8 million in fines had been collected and more than 28,000 driver’s licenses restored by the middle of December, according to a new KPCC report. The law passed in September after advocates for the downtrodden urged the Legislature to lessen the effect of some of the nation’s heaviest traffic violation fines.

Three measures, passed last session, provide relief to motorists in trouble:

  • Senate Bill 85 requires counties to implement an amnesty program. Amnesty runs through March 31, 2017.
  • Assembly Bill 1151 provides a way for drivers facing parking ticket fines to pay by installments.
  • Senate Bill 405 allows drivers to contest fines before paying the fine by a set deadline and gives those in arrears more time to make good. The previous law made it difficult for drivers to contest tickets and added penalties for prolonged pay periods. Traffic tickets for $35 violations were turning into $200-plus fines once a state fee, a court cost fee and a county assessment were tacked on.

Now, though, the state and municipalities will have to deal with a loss of revenue.

Following the Money

The money ends up funding any number of government projects and enterprises, depending on the location, the issuing agency and the type of violation.

Traffic Fine Fees - source Los Angeles Superior Court (1)

The state attaches 20 percent onto any traffic ticket, of which 70 percent is distributed to a number of operations. Leading that is a restitution fund (32 percent) followed by driver training assessment (25 percent) — which pays for driver training in schools — and police training (24 percent). Eight percent also goes to the corrections training fund, which exists “for the development of appropriate standards, training and program evaluation.”

“California is unique in that traffic fees go to so many different funds as a revenue source,” said John Bowman, vice president of the National Motorists Association. “You just don’t see it to that degree in other states.”

Diverting portions of the revenue to things like officer training, he said, makes no sense.

“It seems logical that the proceeds of the fine should be tied to the nature of that fine.”

In some cases, cities and counties battle for the revenue. The city of San Jose in 2011 complained in a report that the $4 million it had been receiving for 50,000 violations has been tapped by outside government sources.

“Most revenue from traffic citations benefits the state of California and the county, not the city,” the report stated.

Legislative analysts found that amnesty would have no effect on local or state coffers.

But that seems unlikely, unless SB405 was simply a feel-good measure to make motorists feel like their representatives were offering them some relief.

“This sounds like a gesture,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “If a person feels they have a good chance to win in court, why wouldn’t they in the first place?”

But language in SB85 does give more money to state funds supported by traffic fines and fees:

The bill would, following the transfer to the Judicial Council of the first $250,000 received, increase the percentage of specified penalties to be deposited in the Peace Officers’ Training Fund and the Corrections Training Fund, which are continuously appropriated funds.

Speed Traps (1)

California, with 13 million registered vehicles on the road, ranks second to Texas in the number of speed traps over the last five years, according to arecent study by the National Motorists Association.

The state also ranks in the top 10 based on speed traps per 1,000 of lane miles.

The crowd-sourced speedtrap.org website has tracked trouble areas and warned drivers since 1999.  Los Angeles tops the list of speed traps in the state with 57, with San Diego second with 48.  San Jose, Riverside and Fresno round out the top five.

For more information about how to qualify for the program, organized by county, seehttp://www.courts.ca.gov/trafficamnesty.htm

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and avalanche50@hotmail.com. His website is www.Avalanche50.com

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CARTOON: New Uses for Body Cameras

Body Camera cartoon