Police Cannot Police in Liberal California

Police tapeCalifornia’s political dysfunction is directly responsible for making the state unaffordable for middle class families. The so-called “housing crisis,” the most visible and harmful manifestation of California’s unaffordability, is precisely the result of California’s policymakers inviting the welfare cases of America and the expatriates of the world to move here, at the same time as they’ve enacted environmental policies that make it extremely time consuming and expensive to build anything.

There is a parallel dysfunction in California, also entirely the creation of the political elites who run this state. That is the near impossibility of efficiently policing the state. Members of law enforcement contend with powerful transnational gangs, often sheltered from arrest by sanctuary laws. They contend with burgeoning populations of the homeless that now dominate some of California’s most cherished public spaces. How many of these homeless would find refuge with families or friends if laws didn’t prevent vagrancy enforcement? How many of them would find entry level jobs to pay a living wage if laws hadn’t made housing prohibitively expensive?

And then there are the common criminals, to be found everywhere, and bound to be numerous in a state with over 40 million residents. Here too, in the fight against ordinary crime, thanks to “progressive” state legislation, law enforcement in California fights an uphill battle.

The turning point in California’s progressive assault on law enforcement was the passage of Prop. 47 in November 2014. Supported by nearly all Democratic politicians, a smattering of naive libertarians, the ACLU, and several unions including AFSCME and SEIU California, this ballot initiative was misleadingly marketed as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”

Ostensibly to empty the jails of expensively housed “nonviolent” offenders, unintended consequences were felt immediately. Over four years later, the negative consequences of Prop. 47 continue to compound and intensify.

Here are some of the impacts of Prop. 47:

  • Freed tens of thousands of felons from state prisons and county jails back into communities.
  • Reduced to misdemeanors the personal use of (or being under the influence of) most illegal drugs including heroin and methamphetamine.
  • Reduced to misdemeanors any crime where the value of property stolen doesn’t exceed $950. This includes shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, and fraud.

Downgrading drug and property crimes has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are just issued citations with a court date, and let go. Many of them don’t show up for their court dates. Habitual offenders know they’re no longer vulnerable to the “three strikes” statutes. They know that even repeated misdemeanor convictions are unlikely to land them in jail for very long. Even the liberal Washington Post reported on the impact of Prop. 47 as “A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’

California’s generous welfare and inviting sanctuary policies, combined with unaffordable housing and the most forgiving winter climate in America, mean a large homeless population is inevitable. Prop. 47, which releases inmates from prison at the same time as it makes it harder to incarcerate new offenders, inevitably adds rather than decreases the total population of California’s homeless. Recent estimates put the number of homeless in California at nearly 140,000, with the largest number, approximately 55,000, in Los Angeles County.

The concentration of homeless in Los Angeles isn’t just because it is the largest city in the state. It’s also because in 2006, the notoriously liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Jones v. City of Los Angeles ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of “permanent supportive housing” could be built. And as the city bureaucrats fitfully apply grant funds that apparently can’t construct a basic apartment for much less than a half-million each, police are forced to permit massive and permanent homeless encampments which have become havens for criminals of all kinds.

Policing has become tough everywhere in California. As if the fallout from Prop. 47 and rulings such as Jones v. City of Los Angeles aren’t bad enough, now there’s something new, the “The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015.” This law, supposedly intended to address dubious claims, especially in California, of discriminatory policing, has made it even more difficult for police to do their jobs. Each year, police departments are now required to submit to the State of California an annual report of their “stop data.” The following table, drawn from this report, shows the “Officer Reporting Requirements.”

When it comes to the practical effect of AB 953, it’s hard to find anything good. Every single time they interact with a citizen, for whatever reason, officers have to input 17 variables into a form that is either paper (four pages, requiring reentry into a database), or onto a tablet, cell phone, or in-car laptop. The mere fact that this is a time consuming process will prevent a police officer from making as many stops during a normal shift, and may deter them from even making some stops. Worse, the data collected is designed to either prove or disprove that officers in any given police department are stopping a disproportionate number of citizens who are members of “protected status groups.” Needless to say, officers, and their departments, may become reluctant to exceed their “quotas,” and as a result have an incentive to not make stops when stops are warranted.

This sort of meddling in the day to day actions of police officers does not serve the community, and it is demoralizing to officers. And it is important to emphasize that this focus on trying to prove that a disproportionate number of, say, African American, or Latinos, or other “people of color” are being “profiled,” has little or nothing to do with appropriate police oversight. There are over a million sworn police officers in the United States. It is statistically impossible for a population of individuals that large to not have a few bad apples. For this reason, and others, police tactics and police oversight should constantly evolve, and they do. That’s a good thing. But laws like AB 953, which pressure police into bringing their “stops” into conformance with ethnic and religious quotas, ignore the disproportionate reality of crime statistics, and further tie the hands of law enforcement.

California is ran by a progressive elite who have decided to sacrifice the aspirations of ordinary residents on the altar of utopian dreams. It’s not working, but they’re doubling down, and at this point there’s no end in sight.

The laws they’ve passed in virtually all areas make it harder for individual Californians to succeed. Astronomical costs for housing and tuition. Utility and gasoline prices that are the highest in the nation, and unaffordable to many. Regressive, often embedded taxes that make everything more expensive, from food to telephone bills. Then on top of that, laws that make California a magnet for welfare recipients and undocumented immigrants; laws that create an exploding population of homeless; laws that release thousands of criminals onto the streets. All of this makes crime more likely.

The last thing California’s lawmakers should be doing is making it harder for police to police. But that’s exactly what they’ve done. Things may have to get much worse, before they get better.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

California police unions are preparing to battle new transparency law in the courtroomc

The Fredericksburg, Va. Police Department has introduced the use portable video camera devices worn by all on-duty officers. The Taser Axon Flex is the product in use. (Copyright, Robert A. Martin/Freelance)

Just as a landmark police transparency law is going into effect, some California police agencies are shredding internal affairs documents and law enforcement unions are rushing to block the information from being released.

The new law, which begins to unwind California’s strictest-in-the-nation protections over the secrecy of law enforcement records, opens to the public internal investigations of officer shootings and other major uses of force, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty. But the lawsuits and records destruction, which began even before the law took effect Jan. 1, could tie up the release of information for months or years, and in some instances, prevent it from ever being disclosed.

“The fact that police unions are challenging this law is on some level not surprising,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, one of the principal supporters of the new law. “They have a long history of fighting tooth and nail against transparency.”

Before this year, the public couldn’t access police disciplinary records outside of a courtroom. The same prohibitions, which were first put into place four decades ago after a push from police unions, applied to prosecutors as well. California was the only state in the nation where that was the case. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

Is Anything Off-Limits for California’s Police Unions?

Police tapeA few weeks ago the Costa Mesa Police Association (read: Police Union) and their former law firm agreed to pay $607,000 to settle a lawsuit after their scheme against two Costa Mesa city councilmen came to light.

As I wrote in my book, this settlement represents a small but important victory in the broader philosophical war between California’s public employee unions’ unquenchable demand for more and the handful of public officials willing to stand and say there is simply no more to give. This result should also give hope to public officials across the state who have been at the pointy-end of the public employee unions’ so-called “advocacy” during labor negotiations or an election cycle.

The plot that eventually led to the settlement sounds like the set-up for a Don Winslow novel, but everything you are about to read is true.

On August 22, 2012 a private investigator, Chris Lanzillo, who was employed by the police union’s law firm was tailing the two councilmen in hopes of digging up dirt for use against them in the upcoming November city council elections.

The two Costa Mesa city councilmen were in the police union’s cross-hairs because they were trying to cut-back public employee pensions and benefits. The city had a $5.1 million budget deficit that year, and the offending proposal reduced retirees’ pensions from 90 percent of their salary at age 50 to a mere 81 percent of their pay at 55. That same year, Costa Mesa had 99 employees who earned more than $200,000.  …

Click here to read the full article from Townhall

These L.A. Police and Firefighters Figured Out How to Double Pay for Not Working

Police carTake a program that lets a public employee earn both a pension and a salary at the same time. Add an extremely generous disability leave and workers’ compensation program that allows public employees to be paid while not working for months or even years on end. What do you get? Massive corruption, obviously.

new report from the Los Angeles Times attempts to quantify the costs and consequences of a program allowing L.A. police and firefighters to collect both salaries and pension returns in the years running up to retirement. But these same employees often spend massive chunks of their final years on the payroll out on medical leave — so they’re costing the city even more money without actually working.

The program is called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), and it allows public safety employees who have reached the age of 50 to bring home a salary while also earning pension returns during that time. The pension funds (with a guaranteed five percent return rate) are then given to the officer or firefighter as a single payment upon retirement within five years. When you hear stories about police chiefs or fire captains taking home a massive lump sum of money when they retire, this is typically why.

The Times calculated that employees who participated in DROP took more than twice as much sick leave and disability time off than other employees in 2016: 296 hours compared to 123 hours. Over the course of nine years, the city has paid more than $220 million for police and fire personnel who had taken a combined 2.4 million hours off for leaves and sick time.

None of the injuries claimed by cops and firefighters in this program happened as the result of intense field activity. According to the Times, they tended to be the medical consequences of growing old: bad backs, high blood pressure, cancer, and a lot of carpal tunnel syndrome. Thanks to state law (and the influence of public employee unions on lawmaking), these ailments are all presumed to be job-related. Apparently one of the most terrifying, dangerous beats for Los Angeles Police Department officers is its own offices. One guy’s injuries stemmed from him falling off a chair.

The corruption that follows is fairly predictable. The Times includes several stories of public safety employees who spend months or years of their final period on the job out on medical leaves. But they’re hardly bedridden or fighting their way through physical therapy. One couple, a captain and a detective in the LAPD, spent around two years each on medical disability, spending some of their time at their condo in Cabo San Lucas starting a family theater production company. A firefighter who injured his knee just weeks after entering the DROP program shares the same name and hometown as a man who ran a half-marathon two months later, but he and his lawyers would not confirm or deny to the Times whether they were the same person.

Unsurprisingly, this easily abusable program was sold by claiming it would accomplish the opposite of what it actually does. City leaders said the program would keep older police and firefighters on the job to serve and mentor new recruits. And they promoted it to voters by saying it would create no additional costs for the city. This is obviously an absurd claim—the city paid out more than $400,000 in extra pension payments in average in 2016 per DROP employee, and the fire department has to pay overtime to fill the shifts of those who take medical leave.

It’s not a new thing for cities to not consider — or to deliberately ignore — the long-term unintended costs and consequences of pension-related commitments. It’s the very reason why cities (and now even states) face bankruptcy over them. The costs of pension-related commitments are often concealed from residents. The Times notes that Los Angeles city officials haven’t even bothered to analyze the amount of medical leave taken by DROP participants.

Public warnings about problems with the DROP program aren’t even new. Check out this piece from 2011 that warns that the program wasn’t even being audited.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who was in charge when the program was introduced, has acknowledged that DROP was “a mistake” and a “total fraud.” But it persists in Los Angeles as other cities and states across the country have dropped it. Even San Francisco dumped the program because it was too costly, and this was after they implemented rules to try to cut back on abuse.

Los Angeles has a big problem with underfunding its pensions to the tune of billions and expecting much higher returns than is reasonable. This DROP program helps make a bad problem even worse.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

Bonus link: Steven Greenhut goes over the ways public sector unions in California push for costly benefit packages that leave taxpayers overcommitted.

Bay Area Takes Police-State Approach to Tobacco

 

Should the LAPD use drones?

As reported by the L.A. Times:

For more than three years, a pair of drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department was locked away, collecting dust after a public outcry over the idea of police using the controversial technology.

Seattle police saw a similar backlash when they wanted to use the devices, grounding their drone program before it even took off. And recently, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of a drone has been criticized by activists as well as civilian oversight commissioners who want the agency to stop.

On Tuesday, the LAPD again waded into the heated debate, saying the department wanted to test the use of drones in a one-year pilot program.

Drones have been hailed by law enforcement across the country as a valuable technology that could help find missing hikers or monitor armed suspects without jeopardizing the safety of officers. But efforts to deploy the unmanned aircraft have frequently drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates or police critics for whom the devices stir Orwellian visions of inappropriate — or illegal — surveillance and fears of military-grade, weaponized drones patrolling the skies. …

Click here to read the full story

California Bill Would Tie Traffic Fines To Violator’s Income

As reported by CBS13:

SACRAMENTO — If you’ve ever gotten a traffic violation, you know it all too well that California’s traffic fines are among the highest in the nation.

But a state Senator wants to lower fines for people who don’t make much money while making it illegal for the state to suspend your driver’s license if you can’t afford to pay.

Devon Olson is in the passenger’s seat, while mom drives her around town.

“I’m Uber mom these days,” mom said.

Devon lost her license because of $3,600 in unpaid traffic tickets. The biggest penalty is a red light camera violation. But she says she wasn’t home to receive the tickets in the mail. Then the late fees kept building and she had to give up the car. …

Click here to read the full article

New Bill Calls for Cops to Track Weapons

As reported by the Orange County Register:

A state bill introduced Monday would require California law enforcement agencies to keep track of their guns and establish a reporting procedure for when police lose them.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he introduced the legislation in response to investigations published this year by the Orange County Register and Bay Area News Group revealing that many law enforcement agencies make little or no effort to inventory their weapons and that officers frequently lose their firearms – some of which end up on the street.

“The guns…fall into the hands of criminals,” Hill said. “The public will be protected much better when we account for law enforcement guns.”

The stories on lost police guns noted that there are no state or federal laws requiring police agencies to account for their weapons and few agencies voluntarily do so.

The Department of Justice’s Automated Firearms System attempts to act as a national registry for law enforcement weapons, but agencies are not required to report when a registered gun is lost or stolen. Also, officers don’t have to register their privately-owned guns even if they frequently carry them in the line of duty. …

Click here to read the full article

If Police Unions Were Abolished and Police Associations Were Restored

Police tapeEarlier this month the New York Times ran an editorial entitled “When Police Unions Impede Justice.” They make the point that collective bargaining agreements for police employees often make it very difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. When you have nearly 1 million sworn police officers in the United States, you’re bound to have a few bad apples. According to the NYT, these collective bargaining agreements discourage citizens from lodging misconduct complaints, micromanage investigations, and minimize disciplinary sanctions.

This isn’t news. It’s one of the reasons collective bargaining agreements for police officers are especially problematic. The other big problem with collective bargaining agreements for members of public safety are the often excessive and unaffordable benefit packages they’ve “negotiated” with the politicians whose careers are made or broken by these same unions. So what if police unions were abolished?

One may argue that abolishing police unions in favor of police associations – which could not engage in collective bargaining – would actually benefit all parties. An immediate benefit would be greater accountability for police officers. Why wouldn’t greater individual accountability be supported by the overwhelming majority of police officers who are conscientious, humane, compassionate members of the communities they serve? In turn, why wouldn’t greater police accountability foster rapprochement in neighborhoods where mistrust has developed between citizens and law enforcement?

With respect to pay and benefits for police officers, the risks of abolishing collective bargaining may be overstated. As it is, rates of base pay for police officers are not excessive by market standards. If they were, it would be easier to hire police officers. The primary economic problem with police compensation is retirement benefits, which in California now easily average over $100,000 per year for officers retiring in their 50’s after 25+ years of service. As the unions defend these excessive pensions, younger officers are left with far less generous benefits. The perpetually escalating contributions the pension funds demand – for all public employees – are behind virtually all tax increases being proposed in California. It can’t go on.

So abolishing collective bargaining for police would lead to several benefits (1) more police accountability and improved community relations, (2) minimal impact on base police pay, and (3) quicker resolution of financial challenges facing pensions, which will increase the probability that the defined benefit will be preserved, and will increase the potential retirement benefit available to the incoming generation of new police officers.

Apart from ending collective bargaining agreements, abolishing police unions in no way abolishes the ability of police officers to organize in voluntary associations to pursue common professional and political objectives. Before we had unionized police forces, police associations were very influential in civic affairs and could be again. And there are broader political objectives that may animate these police associations, beyond protecting bad cops and fighting for financially unsustainable retirement benefits. Police and other public safety employees, whether they are part of a union or part of a voluntary association, should think carefully about where the United States is headed. This is especially true in California.

The most dangerous risk of politically active police unions is the fact that whenever government fails, whenever our common culture is undermined, whenever social programs breed more problems than they solve, we need to hire more police officers. And whenever government expands to regulate and manage more aspects of our lives, we need to hire more police officers. Social upheaval and authoritarian government create jobs for police officers. For a police union that wants more members, a failing society and an authoritarian government suits their agenda.

For this reason, police officers have a choice to make. Do they really want to enforce the laws emanating from the climate fascists, the tolerance fascists, the sensitivity fascists, the equality fascists, the multi-cultural fascists – the entire ostensibly anti-fascist fascist gang of elitists who currently control public policy in California? Do they want to deploy drones to monitor whether or not someone got a permit to install a window in their bathroom, or watered their lawn on the wrong day? Do they want to fine or arrest people who aren’t willing to adhere to speech codes, or who refuse to hire less qualified employees in order to fulfill race and gender quotas? Do they want to police a society that has fragmented irretrievably because we continued to import millions of unskilled, destitute individuals from hostile cultures, than indoctrinated their children in union-ran public schools to falsely believe they live in a racist, sexist society?

It’s a tough choice. Will politically active police organizations redirect some of their resources to support policies that might actually reduce the number of police we need? Abolishing collective bargaining may make the right choice easier, because police will then be less immune to the economic and social havoc the elitists are currently imposing on the rest of us.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Appreciating Police Officers, Challenging Police Unions

Police carIn the wake of tragic and deadly attacks on police officers, those of us who have never wavered in our support for the members of law enforcement, but have questioned the role of police unions and have debated issues of policy surrounding law enforcement have an obligation to restate our position. Civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives have disagreements with police unions which were summed up quite well recently by guest columnist Steve Greenhut, writing in the Orange County Register. Here are some of the principal concerns:

Police unionization protects bad officers and stifles reform. Lack of transparency into investigations of police misconduct aids and abets the worst actors. Police unions often support laws designed to extract increased revenue from citizens in the form of excessive fines. The “war on drugs” and militarization of law enforcement can further increase the tension between police and the populations they serve. And, of course, police unions fight relentlessly for increases to compensation and benefits, especially straining the budgets of cities.

To have a balanced discussion on these topics, however, it is necessary to revisit why police work has become more controversial and more expensive. Here are some of the reasons:

(1)  The value of life has never been higher. A century ago, when the life expectancy for Americans was 49, tragic deaths were commonplace. Compared to Americans in 1916, Americans today on average can expect an additional three decades of productive life, and premature death is proportionately more traumatic. This means the premium that police officers deserve for their service is higher than it’s ever been, and should be.

(2)  The expectations we have for law enforcement have never been higher. Along with longer lives, Americans suffer less crime. For nearly forty years, in nearly all categories, crime has steadily diminished. While there remains enough crime to generate a daily barrage of lurid local news reports, we enjoy more safety and security than at any time in history. We are getting this service thanks to our police forces, and better service deserves better pay.

(3)  The complexity of crime has never been higher. Crime itself has become far more sophisticated and menacing, morphing into areas unimaginable even a generation ago – cybercrime, global terrorism, financial crimes, murderous gangs, international criminal networks, foreign espionage, asymmetric threats – the list is big and gets bigger every year. Countering these threats requires more capable, better compensated personnel.

(4)  The statistical risk to police officers, even in the wake of recent tragedies, may remain low, but that could change in an instant. In the event of severe civil unrest or well coordinated terrorist attacks such as we saw in Sept. 2011, hundreds or even thousands of officers could find themselves on the front lines of a cataclysm. Statistics are not necessarily predictive, and police officers live with this knowledge every day.

So how do civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives manage their debates with police unions while conveying their respect for police officers? First, by acknowledging the complexity of the issues. Police should make more money than ever before – the debate should start there, not end there. Police have to be armed to the teeth, because in a free republic, the citizens themselves are armed to the teeth. That’s the choice we made, and unless we want to disarm the citizenry, we can’t disarm the police. These are fundamentals where there should be agreement.

Beyond that, it is necessary to appeal to the patriotism and decency that animates the vast majority of members of law enforcement, and ask them: Please work with us to curb the inherent excesses of police union power. Of course we have to get bad cops off the street. Of course we have to come up with effective non-lethal uses of force. Of course we have to figure out how to fund police departments without levying excessive fines. And of course we have to face a challenging economic future together, where police are partners with the people they serve, not an economically privileged class. Is this possible? One may hope so.

There’s more. If police unions are going to be intimately involved in the politics of law enforcement and the politics of police compensation, and they are, they may as well start getting involved in other causes where their membership may find common cause with civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives. Police officers see first hand how welfare destroys families and how public schools fail our children. So why aren’t they fighting to replace welfare with workfare and why aren’t they fighting to destroy the teachers union? You can say what you will about police unions, but they did NOT turn this nation into a lawless hellhole, quite the opposite. The teachers union DID destroy public education. So help us reduce their influence.

Similarly, police officers need to decide if they really feel like enforcing the myriad environmental harassment laws that are criminalizing everything from installing a window or water heater without a building permit to watering your lawn on the wrong day. The global environmentalist movement – of which California is ground zero – has become fascism masquerading as anti-fascism. It has become neo-colonialism masquerading as concern for indigenous peoples. It was a previously noble movement that has been hijacked by cynical billionaires, monopolistic corporations, and corrupt financial special interests. In its excess today, it has become a despicable scam. Help us to crush these corrupt opportunists before our freedom and prosperity is obliterated.

These thoughts, perhaps, are challenges that civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives might offer up to the police unions of America.

This piece was originally published by the Flash Report

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.