November 5, 2021
“Man swinging machete…” “Naked woman jumping on cars…” “Two men fighting with sticks…” “Woman assaulted with trash can…” Whether its Citizen, NextDoor, or Twitter, the constant public safety notifications are disturbing. As I meet daily with constituents all over CD-11, I hear personal accounts of similar incidents. I’ve experienced them myself.
In 2020, there were 350 homicides, an increase of nearly 40% over 2019. Police officials pointed to gang violence as a major factor in the significant increase of shootings in 2020.¹ Yet at the same time, Mike Bonin, who famously campaigned on increasing police in our neighborhoods and accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from law enforcement, turned on his former allies and voted to defund LAPD by $150 million.² As a result, the Department lost nearly 800 sworn officers, and resources for robbery, homicide, gang, and narcotics divisions were drastically reduced.
Between September 26 and October 23, 2021, LAPD Pacific Division reported a total of 82 violent crimes, including 8 rapes, 29 robberies, and 48 aggravated assaults. Total violent crime in 2021 is up 27.9% YTD over 2019. Property crimes were also significant for the week ending October 23: 56 burglaries, 111 stolen vehicles, 97 thefts from vehicles, and 129 other thefts of other personal property.³
A perfect combination of failed legislation, the proliferation of drugs and addiction, the reduction of law enforcement resources, and inept leadership at City Hall. For today, let’s just focus on the legislation.
Many of these efforts were well-intended. Prison overcrowding and mass incarceration are bad. Long prison sentences for truly non-violent offenses make no sense. The disparate impact of some outdated criminal justice policies on black and brown communities destroyed lives and neighborhoods. All of these issues needed to be addressed and reformed. But in many ways, the legislative reform efforts misled the public and actually created the very crisis we are now dealing with. I’ve spoken to police officers, criminal prosecutors, and probation officers who confirm that changes to State law have made the crime problem worse.
A Trifecta Of Bad Bills
In response to prison overcrowding concerns in 2011, lawmakers passed AB-109, known as the “Public Safety Realignment Act.” This bill limited sentencing for about 500 felonies to County jail instead of prison, which surged the local jail population to nearly historic highs.⁴ Overnight, offenders convicted of heinous crimes, such as attempted murder, domestic violence, rape, lewd acts with a child, and battery with serious bodily injury, were eligible for early release. About 45,000 inmates were released, and property, vehicle, and drug offenses began to rise.
Compounding matters, in 2014, California voters passed Prop 47, authored by our current District Attorney, George Gascon. This ballot measure, misleadingly entitled the “Safe Neighborhoods & Schools Act,” reclassified numerous felony crimes as misdemeanors. Now, thieves can steal with impunity, so long as the value of what is stolen in each theft is less than $950. In addition, possession of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine is a misdemeanor infraction, which has decimated the ability to mandate treatment as part of a felony plea bargain. According to Ron Lawrence, former President of the California Police Chief’s Association, Prop 47 is largely responsible for the increase in homelessness and drug addiction.⁵ Drug related crimes have skyrocketed, and retail businesses are spending thousands on private security, or closing down all together due to mass retail theft.⁶
Then, in 2016, voters passed Prop 57, the “Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act,” which allows for early release of thousands more felons, including repeat offenders, convicted of “non-violent” crimes, such as rape of an unconscious person, assault with a deadly weapon, human trafficking, and solicitation to commit murder.⁷
A Missed Opportunity To Fix The Problem
In 2020, California voters rejected Prop 20, a ballot measure which would have permitted some previously reduced misdemeanors to be charged as a felony, redefined 51 crimes as “violent” to exclude offenders from early parole, and required the Parole Board to consider factors such as the felon’s attitude, mental condition, and circumstances of the crime. Theoretically, Prop 20 would have restored some of the tools needed by police and prosecutors to address the growing crime problem.
So, What Can Be Done?
Write your state representatives about changing the law! See sample letter here: https://www.cityofmonrovia.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=4852
At the local level, we need our gang enforcement units back, we need to increase our drug enforcement details, we need to expand community policing, and we need to ensure LAPD is adequately staffed to keep communities safe. While we can’t (and shouldn’t) criminalize the status of being an addict, we can (and should) prosecute the manufacturers and distributors of illegal narcotics, especially those laced with deadly fentanyl. We need to invest in programs that support addiction recovery and address mental health, and provide former inmates with a way to successfully reintegrate back into society so they don’t end right back up on the streets. We also need new leadership who is willing to call out failure where it exists, and who will advocate for better solutions that actually work.
Crime is a huge problem, and fixing this mess won’t be easy. But I will certainly do my best, and I know you will too.