Lying About Money

Public defenders often ask for equal funding for their office and the District Attorney’s Office. Specifically, they claim that their offices are underfunded because they receive less than the District Attorney’s Office. Here’s a tweet from a public defender asking for “parity” of funding between the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office.

This claim has the veneer of fairness to it, especially to people unfamiliar with the system, who see the two agencies as flip sides of the same coin. But the claim does not stand up to even a short overview of the facts. But type of rhetoric persuades some people. Here’s an article with a headline describing public defenders as having “the odds stacked against them” against “better resourced district attorney’s offices.” The argument worked on the New Orleans City Council:

Is it true that the Public Defender’s Office should have equal funding to the District Attorney’s Office?

The District Attorney’s Office Has More Cases Than the Public Defender’s Office

In Los Angeles, the public defender’s office handles approximately 70% of the felony cases prosecuted in the County. The Alternate Public Defender (used when the Public Defender has a conflict of interest) handles about 15% of the felonies. The remainder is handled by private lawyers of two types. First, bar panel lawyers are paid for their time by the state and are used when both the Public Defender and the Alternate Public Defendant have conflicts of interest. The second type are truly private lawyers, paid directly by the defendant.

By contrast, the district attorney’s office handles 100% of the felonies prosecuted in the County. In a given day in court, a prosecutor will handle cases defended by public defenders, alternate public defenders, bar panel lawyers, and private attorneys. A deputy public defender’s day in court is different. All of her cases are prosecuted by a deputy district attorney.

More cases means more attorneys. To continue with our Los Angeles example, there are 600 deputy public defenders and roughly 850 deputy district attorneys in that county.* In other words, the PD’s office is 70% the size of the DA’s office. This tracks nicely with the fact that they prosecute 70% of the felony cases. In Alameda County, there are 100 public defenders and 150 district attorneys. Statewide, there are 4,113 prosecutors and 2,580 public defenders.

Do Public Defenders Have a Leg to Stand On?

Public defenders do important work: it’s hard to disagree with them when they say they need more money. To be clear, more money is needed for virtually every agency involved in criminal justice, including public defenders. But, needing more money generally is different than arguing that public defenders are under-resourced compared to district attorneys.

Criminal defense attorney Paul Pfingst was elected as district attorney between 1994 and 2002. He said there “is little value” in comparing the district attorney’s and public defender’s budgets, because their respective responsibilities are so different.

Let’s go through some of the public defender’s arguments about why their office should get more money, as compared to the District Attorney’s Office.

PD Claim: Prosecutors Choose Their Own Caseload

Public defenders claim that prosecutors choose their own caseloads. Contrast public defenders, who learn of a new case when they are given the filing packet, whether they want it or not. This argument seems to imply that prosecutors can simply file fewer cases if they are low on resources.

This rests on the shaky assumption that if a prosecutor doesn’t have the resources to prosecute a case, they will just ignore it. Statistics suggest that such a case will get filed anyway, and the prosecutor will attempt to make room for it by plea-bargaining away other cases. In other words, short-changing prosecutor’s offices doesn’t result in fewer cases, it results in more leniency. Also, this argument is silent on why the prosecutors should get paid less per case than public defenders just because they make filing decisions.

PD Claim: A Prosecutor’s Job is Easier

Public defenders also claim that prosecutors have an easier job.

The DA’s office has control of cases, we don’t. They know which cases are going to die and put no work into them. We still have the person who is charged with that crime who wants status updates, maybe we’ve sent out investigators out. Maybe we have to file motions to dismiss and they never respond because they know full well they have no case and they would rather a judge say it’s dismissed because then the DA can blame the court instead of saying “we dismissed it.”

(Ole TD @timmydhue on Twitter.)

Deputy public defenders often forget that it takes work to decide which cases should be filed and which should be declined. Paul Pingst, defense attorney turned DA, said prosecutors have to investigate many more cases than those that end up in court. They have to handle victims, witnesses and evidence for every referral from police and sheriff’s departments; and they must prepare every complaint as if it will land before a jury. “If you don’t make a convincing case you’re going to get more trials,” he said. “If you cut corners on the investigation, then defense thinks they have a shot at winning at trial.” In other words, cases don’t simply spring into being. Filing a case is a lengthy and delicate task that public defenders don’t do.

Deputy district attorneys must often shore up weak areas in their cases by directing criminal investigations. On one end, this might mean listening to jail calls. On the other, this could mean overseeing a wiretap, executing search warrants, or interrogating witnesses. Prosecutors are often called out to especially important crime scenes, such as murders, to assist before a case is ever presented.

The claim that prosecutors have easier jobs is most jarring when it is time for trial. For a prosecutor, putting on a criminal trial is like putting on a play. You have to get evidence to court, you have to get witnesses to court, you have to get officers to court. Unlike a play, the prosecutor has no idea what any of these people are going to show up, much less what they are going to say, and must able to adapt to circumstances as they happen. By contrast, the public defender rarely, if ever, puts on a defense case. They usually rely only on cross-examination of the People’s witnesses. There are exceptions to this rule. But viewed in the aggregate, a defense case is vanishingly rare, and a defense case with more witnesses and evidence than a prosecution case is unheard of. In other words, trial preparation for a defense lawyer is an order of magnitude lighter than for a prosecutor.

PD Claim: Prosecutors Don’t Have Clients

“The difference is that prosecutors don’t have clients. Full stop. They do not represent people; they represent the State. There is no just comparison between an unaccountable imprisoner of the dubiously convicted and a defender of humans when the defenders always get paid less.” (Alexander Ignatiev @alexIgnatiev on Twitter.)

Speaking as an unaccountable imprisoner of the dubiously convicted, I find a lot wrong with this. First, the prosecutor does have a client: it’s the people in the community. Second, this community includes crime victims, who are often extremely involved, especially in serious cases like murders, rapes, or assaults. The prosecutor is also responsible to the officers who investigated the case, and who want to see it handled effectively. And finally, the prosecutor is susceptible to pressure from the media in ways that the public defender is not.

Finally, for anyone who doesn’t know, deputy public defenders and deputy district attorneys are on the exact same pay scale.

PD Claim: Prosecutors Have Better Staff

Others complain that the DA’s office has massive investigative units and support staff that public defenders’ offices lack. (Rob Harris @RealRobH1 on Twitter.) Although the public defenders have investigators and support staff of their own, they believe they are inadequate. Without any data in support of this argument, it might just be generalized complaining that’s not grounded in fact. It would be hard for a public defender to affirmatively show that the secretaries and paralegals don’t work as effectively as their DA counterparts.

But what about the police? Defenders seem to believe that the police only work for the prosecution, and not the community in general, which includes the defendant. The reason the police don’t appear to work for the defense is that prosecutors don’t bring cases against the advice of the police. Those cases are simply not filed. The work the police do to exonerate the innocent is done almost entirely out of the courtroom, and out of sight of the public defenders who make this kinds of arguments.

The Verdict

Public Defender’s Offices and District Attorney’s Offices do different things. Since the DA’s handle more cases, they get more resources. This is simple enough that those of us in the field understand it implicitly. But people outside the field can be misled. There are public defenders on Twitter trying to mislead people in order to get a larger budget. That’s wrong. PDs, and everyone in the criminal justice system, can make the case for more money with the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

Notes

An overview of the problem by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The California State Senate Committee on Public Safety studied the State Public Defender to determine appropriate workloads.

The cleverly titled article The State Never Rests looks at whether excessive prosecutor caseloads harms criminal defendants.

* The LADA website says approximately 1,000 attorneys, however, over a hundred have left in the wake of the election of District Attorney George Gason.

Are There Deputy Gangs at LASD?

As Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s reelection campaign heats up, critics have accused his agency of harboring what they call “deputy gangs.” At the same time, I read a disturbing article about a deputy who shot off another deputy’s tattoo. The author alleged that the tattoo was shot off because changes to the design were not “cleared with deputy gang leadership.” This seemed so disconnected from my personal experience in the system that I had to look into it.

So are there gangs of LASD deputies, just like there are gangs of criminals in Los Angeles? Is this true, or is it a smear?

The Case That There Are Deputy Gangs

In 2019, the FBI investigated LASD deputies for allegedly using excessive force. The LA Times summarized the investigation. Deputies were accused of belonging to a secret society at the East Los Angeles Station called the Banditos. This group had matching tattoos. They were accused of recruiting Latino deputies into the group and retaliating against those who rebuff them. The investigation was spurred by a group of deputies who sued over a hostile work environment. Specifically, the suing deputies complained about a fight involving members of the Banditos at an off-duty party. Four deputies allegedly attacked a rookie. The four men were investigated by LASD and a criminal referral was made to the District Attorney’s Office.

The LA Times and the Los Angeles Daily News both use the word “gang” to describe this issue. This editorial decision is hopefully made by responsible professionals based on the totality of circumstances. LASD deputies at all levels have themselves referred to the subgroups as gangs. This is particularly common when former LASD deputies are running for Sheriff.

The allegation that there are deputy gangs has become so common that there is even a Wikipedia article on the subject. The article uses the term gangs. It claims that the LASD “acknowledged” a gang called the “Little Devils” in an internal memo in 1973. There is no citation for this assertion, but I found the memo, which you can see here. It does not acknowledge a gang. Indeed, the word “gang” does not appear in the memo. The Wikipedia article also claims that some people “believe” that deputy gangs were involved in the death of a reporter during a protest. This assertion is linked to another website which explains that journalist was accidentally hit with a tear gas cannister after ignoring an order to disperse.

The Case That These Groups Are Not Deputy Gangs

Gang members and sheriff’s deputies are not equivalent. LASD deputies are extensively background-checked. They do not have criminal records. There are educational requirements for deputies, who must also pass a rigorous training process. They are supervised in an organized hierarchy that mimics a military command structure. This supervision is controlled by elected officials. There are independent watchdogs that also review deputies’ conduct. The deputies wear cameras that document their every interaction with the public. Street gangs are not run this way.

The LASD has policies that specifically bar department members from participating in any groups that violate anyone rights. LASD has warned its deputies that organizing into a group with a tattoo will cause the department to get sued. But the 1st Amendment prevents LASD from banning the tattoos altogether. Villanueva has asked that deputies with matching tattoos have them removed.

Deputies themselves do not consider the groups to be gangs. They refer to the them as “drinking groups,” “intramural sports teams,” or “social clubs.” LASD correctly notes that the law has a definition for “criminal street gang” that these groups do not meet. (See Pen. Code section 186.22.) LASD points out that the primary purpose of a gang is to commit crimes, but the primary purpose of the LASD groups is to promote comradery. Others have argue

In this article, Vox describes “cliques of officers who allegedly engage in violent and potentially criminal behavior.” The “most commonly cited feature” is tattoos. Vox appears to be one of the few media outlets who has decided against using gang language.

Although the LA Times, Daily News, and other media use the word “gangs” to describe these groups, this incendiary language may be designed to attract readers and sell advertising, rather than accurately reflect reality.

The LA Times gave some space to dissenting opinions. “Defenders say the cliques are harmless fraternities, likening them to close-knit groups in the military.” Sheriff Alex Villanueva says there are no gangs in LASD. He described groups of friends with matching tattoos as a “cultural norm” and a source of intergenerational hazing. He said there is nothing wrong with the clubs as long as they don’t promote misconduct.

Conclusion

The heart of the issue seems to be how to describe groups of deputies who work and socialize together, and who have matching tattoos. This is common in the military, going all the way back to ancient Rome. It’s also common for college students in fraternities or sororities. The cast members of the Lord of the Rings trilogy famously worked together, socialized together, and got matching tattoos. So did the cast of the Avengers and Suicide Squad. The practice is common among bands.

People like this, with matching tattoos, commit crimes and misconduct. Returning to the Lord of the Rings example, actor Viggo Mortensen was arrested at Dulles Airport. Sean Bean, another Lord of the Rings actor with a matching tattoo, was arrested for spousal assault. Still, we obviously don’t consider these actors to be gang members.

The fact that gang members have matching tattoos does not make the practice gang-related. The fact that gang members have matching tattoos does not transform everyone with matching tattoos into gang members as well. Journalists are loosely using the word “gang” to describe a practice that is common in many areas of law-abiding society. They may be doing it out of bias against police, or to generate clicks, or for some other reason. Whatever the reasons, this practice should stop, until and unless new evidence comes to light.

Sources

A short history of LASD.

50 Years of Deputy Gangs: Identifying Root Causes and Effects to Advocate for Meaningful Reform. A report prepared by a professor at Loyola Law School.

A Tradition of Violence: The History of Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A 15-part “investigative series” on Knock-LA. I didn’t read the whole thing.

A Tale of Two Recalls, and Maybe a Third

San Francisco voters overwhelming recalled several members of the school board on February 15th. Among those booted out of office was Alison Collins, who described merit-based school admission systems as “racist” and fought to take down a historical mural depicting the life of George Washington. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a series of tweets in which she used a racial slur to describe Asian people.

Alison Collins. Credit: Alisoncollinssf.com

The recall effort was about more than just one woman’s racist tweets. The school board that Collins served on got national attention for a string of controversies. The most important was the board’s decision to keep schools closed longer, and reopen slower, than other similar districts. During this time, the board focused on ending merit-based admissions and renaming schools whose namesakes were no longer considered politically correct. Each eligible school board member was recalled with more than 70% of the vote. Collins was recalled 78% to 22%.

Two Recalls

The successful school board recall is linked in the public mind with another San Francisco recall: that of District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin is the son of two members of the Weather Underground, a radical militant organization active in the 1960s and 1970s. Both parents were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of two police officers and a security guard. In an almost-Shakespearian plot, Boudin grew up to become a criminal defense lawyer. In 2019, Boudin ran for District Attorney and succeeded in what many described as a hostile takeover.

When Boudin took office he changed the way crimes were prosecuted in San Francisco. His supporters described these changes as reforms and his opponents described them as “soft on crime.” In an unusual court hearing, a Superior Court judge described Boudin’s management of his office as disorganized, inadvertent, and marred by constant turnover and managerial reorganization. The rate of property crime began to increase, and has continued to increase during his tenure. Drug use and homelessness in San Francisco have become a cliche in the media.

Does Boudin Need to Worry About the Results of the School Board Recall?

Alison Collins and Chesa Boudin are both polarizing liberal figures in San Francisco politics. Almost immediately after the school board recall, people began to wonder if it would predict the district attorney recall. For example, the San Francisco Chronical ran an article titled, “Should Chesa Boudin Be Worried About the School Board Recall Results?” The Chronicle concluded that the groups that voted for the school board recall are “unlikely to seamlessly transfer” their “recall fervor” to Boudin. The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen wrote that Chesa Boudin, and other national figures, should take notice that they “are not what the voters want.” The Spectator wrote that “Chesa Boudin, facing his own recall election on June 7, might be the next to go.” They noted that San Francisco mayor London Breed and police chief Bill Scott have signaled support for Boudin’s recall.

And of course, Twitter has an opinion:

Whatever the case may be, opponents of the wave of changes to the criminal justice system are hopeful. Many speak of the “pendulum” finally swinging away from progressive changes. Whatever the case may be, on June 7, progressive district attorney George Gascon may be watching Boudin’s recall results the same way that Boudin watched those of Alison Collins.

Notes

Alison Collins’ quote about admissions was “When talking about merit, meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing…those are racist systems.… You can’t talk about social justice, and then say you want to have a selective school that keeps certain kids out from the neighborhoods that you think are dangerous.” Meanwhile, Collins’ children attended the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, which also has merit-based admissions requirements.

Collins is an interesting person. She is half black and married to a white real estate developer. They live in Russian Hill, where houses can sell for more than $10,000,000. Although their two daughters are half white and one quarter black, Collins describes them as black.

After the controversy over Collins’ tweets, she sued her own school board for $87 million dollars. If she had won, that $87 million dollars she asked for would leave the hands of teachers and students and head right to her house on Russian Hill. It’s hard to imagine that someone who cares about local public education would want to do something like that. Fortunately for the students, a judge dismissed her lawsuit, saying it had no merit and there was no need for argument in court. Unfortunately, defending the lawsuit still cost the school district $110,000.

Crime Statistics in Los Angeles

I was listening to public radio this morning when I heard that murder was up 11.8%. If my kids misbehaved 11.8% more I’d probably be furious. But that still felt like a small increase compared to what I’ve seen in Los Angeles. So here’s some more data for context. All taken together, it seems to show a city returning to the crisis-level crime of the 1980s and 1990s, but not there yet.

Over the last two years, crime in Los Angeles has exploded. In 2021, there were 397 murders in Los Angeles, up 11.8% from 2020. This may not seem so bad, but crime is up 53.9% from 2019. Los Angeles saw the most homicides since 2007, when there were 395 killings. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose jurisdiction is the County of Los Angeles, reported 201 homicides in 2020, up from 145 in 2019. LASD has not given an official number of homicides for 2021, but Sheriff Alex Villanueva estimated the number at 280. This is a 2-year increase of nearly 100%.

By contrast, there were 797 homicides in Chicago and 485 in New York City. Los Angeles is the 5th most dangerous major city in the report. It compares unfavorably to San Diego, which has less than half the per-capita homicides, and San Jose, which has about a third. Interestingly, LAPD data separates out LASD data in the chart below, but did not do that for any other city. Combining the data would make the LAPD’s crime jump look much larger.

Here’s a look at per capita homicides, which helps contextualize the numbers in light of LA’s growing population.

Homicides per Capita in the City of Los Angeles. Source: LAPD

1,459 people were shot in Los Angeles in 2021. That’s up from 946 in 2019. LAPD officers fired their weapons 37 times in 2021, up from 27 in 2020, and 20 in 2019. 18 people were killed in 2021 from officer-involved shootings.

People Shot in Los Angeles. Source: LAPD

Violent crime in the city increased 3.9% from 2020 to 2021. Property crime rose 4.2% last year over 2020, but was less than 2019.

Notes

Most of the crime data from the City of Los Angeles is taken from LAPD’s 2021 Crime & Initiatives Report. The charts are excellent.

LASD data is here. It does not appear to be as up-to-date as LAPD. For example, here is their historical homicide chart:

Here’s a look at City of Los Angeles homicides going back a bit farther for context:

City of Los Angeles Homicide Totals. Source: LAPD

Briefing Complete in Union Lawsuits Against Gascon

The First Lawsuit

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) filed a lawsuit on December 30, 2020 to stop several illegal policies put out by newly-elected district attorney George Gascon. The Superior Court agreed with the ADDA and filed a temporary injunction on February 8, 2021. Gascon appealed on March 19, 2021. He filed his opening brief on August 17, 2021. The ADDA responded on November 16, 2021. Briefing was completed when Gascon filed a reply on December 6, 2021.

There were two amicus curiae briefs. The first was from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The second was written by Erwin Chemerinsky, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, writing on behalf of 67 other progressive prosecutors. The ADDA responded on January 3, 2022.

As of today, the parties are awaiting a decision by the Second District Court of Appeal.

Alisa Blair. Credit Voyagela.com.

The Second Lawsuit

On October 14, 2021, the ADDA sought an injunction in Superior Court to prevent District Attorney George Gascon from appointing ineligible political supporters to civil service protected positions in the District Attorney’s Office. Specifically, Gascon appointed former public defenders:

  1. Alisa Blair;
  2. Tiffiny Blacknell; and
  3. Shelan Joseph.

He did this outside of the merit system created by the County Charter to root out political bias in hiring and promotion. None of these public defenders had taken or passed the test required for promotion, nor did they have the required experience as a prosecutor. There were 53 candidates who had followed the rules and had been certified as eligible under the County Charter. All 53 were passed over.  The ADDA also appealed before the Civil Service Commission.

On November 8, 2021, a judge denied the ADDA’s request for a preliminary injunction. He held that the appeal before the Civil Service Commission should be completed before an injunction issued. A day before the court denied the request, Gascon promoted 53 internal candidates. Lawyers said this appeared to be an attempt to moot the lawsuit and the Civil Service proceedings. The parties held a trial setting conference on December 3, 2021, which was continued. Then, Gascon filed a Motion for Stay of Proceedings on December 21, which the ADDA opposed on January 3, 2022. Briefing was completed with Gascon ‘s reply on January 7th. The Court heard the motion on January 14, 2022 and denied it. That same day, the court continued a trial setting conference for a second time.

The next hearing is another trial setting conference on April 20, 2022.

Gascon’s Chief of Staff Arrested Drunk at McDonald’s

What Happened

According to the LA Times, Joseph Iniquez has been arrested for being drunk in public. He was in the passenger seat of a car with his fiance Dale Radford shortly before midnight on December 11. They were driving home from a wedding and had stopped in the drive-thru of a McDonald’s. The fiance made an illegal U-turn. Officers approached the car and asked if the fiance was driving drunk. They smelled the odor of alcohol. As teh officers attempted to speak with the fiance, Iniguez inserted himself into the conversation. Iniguez explained that he had been drinking and his fiance was acting as the designated driver. He said that any odor of alcohol is from him. The officer attemped to talk to the drive, Iniguez’s fiance, a second time. Iniguez interrupted again. He was asking question of the officer and began giving his fiance legal advice. The officer told Iniguez that he was not speaking to Iniguez. But Iniguez continued to question the officer about the stop. The officer asked the fiance to step out of the car so that he could separate himself from Iniguez and speak to the driver without interference. Although they did not ask Iniguez to step out, he did anyway.

Once Iniguez was out of the car, he became belligerent and threatening. He called the officer a “fuck-up.”

Iniguez had bloodshot eyes and was slurring his speech. He was “incapable of following simple directions.” He was not wearing shoes. Officers arrested him for public intoxication, a misdemeanor. He was taken to jail and released the following morning. The police released him from jail once he sobered up. Then, Iniguez threatened to put the arresting officer on something called a “Brady List.” Specifically, he called the officer “Brady” and said that he would see him again. The “Brady List” is a list of dishonest police officers. Being on this list prevents an officer from testifying in court. It renders them essentially useless for anything but desk duty. Officers placed on this list are often fired.

They did not present the case to the District Attorney’s Office, which Iniguez helps lead. Any criminal charges would be referred to the Attorney General’s Office due to the conflict of interest.

Iniguez ran for district attorney of Los Angeles County in 2020. He dropped out and joined the campaign of George Gascon. After Gascon won, Iniguez was moved from his low-ranking job as a DDA Grade 2 all the way past Grade 5 and up to Chief Deputy. The Chief Deputy is the second-in-command of the office. Later, he was moved to Chief of Staff, a job he still has today. Gascon’s spokesperson said he was aware of the incident and that “the district attorney has the utmost confidence in Joseph.”

Iniguez and Gascon. Credit: Twitter

Questions

There is video of the incident. Iniquez recorded video on his cell phone. The Tesla driven by his fiance also has a video system. Iniguez has both of these but has not released them to anyone.

Iniguez also oversees the Justice System Integrity Division at LADA. This is the office that prosecutes polices officers.

The arrest raises multiple questions. The first and most obvious question is whether Iniguez has the judgment necessary for his important public role. Although he is much less experienced than most deputy district attorneys in his office, he has some experience with police. He should know not to step into public if he is drunk. He should know that’s a crime. He should also know there is no exception to this law for people who are suspicious of police. Why would he choose to break the law?

The second question raised by this arrest is whether LA DA George Gascon showed good judgment by making this guy his second-in-command. Was it a good idea to take a low-ranking political rival up to the top of the office? Should the Chief Deputy spot be filled on merit or used as a political reward?

Finally, when our political leaders make such bad choices that they end up getting arrested, people might wonder about what other choices they are making on a day to day basis. What other bad choices haven’t we heard about?

Credit: Twitter
Credit: Twitter

Iniguez Sued the Azusa Police Department

Iniguez did not apologize. Instead, he said he has filed an internal affairs complaint against the arresting officer. Iniguez said the officer arrest him “on a whim” and that it was “a traumatic experience.”

Iniguez sued the Azusa Police Department on January 6. He alleged that the officers acted “with evil motive and intent” to violate his civil rights. He complained that the jail intake officer asked about his sexual orientation. He “declined to answer out of fear for his safety.” He complained that the jail was “dark, extremely cold, and isolated.” Also, “the cold was oppressive and injurious.” He was in jail for only four hours.

He claims that the police caused him “emotional and psychological distress. He suffers from sleeplessness and anxiety. He did not identify any physical injuries.

Iniguez is asking the Azusa taxpayer to pay him unspecified compensatory damages, including general and special damages, and punitive damages assigned to the officers involved.

Notes

The arrest report and civil rights complaint are online here. The arrest report lists the location of arrest as a McDonald’s, not a Chick-Fil-A as was originally reported.

The City of Azusa voted no confidence in Gascon on May 18, 2021. Councilman Andrew Mendez said Gascon’s directives create a revolving door for criminals. “If you’re a victim of a violent crime, the last thing you want to hear is that someone who hurt you is back on the streets,” he said.

Azusa PD did a press release:

Credit: Facebook

Azusa’s police union also put out a statement:

It has been made public that Joseph Iniguez was arrested by the Azusa Police Department for violating Penal Code section 647f, public intoxication. This was his only charge. He was booked, processed, and later released, but Iniguez wasn’t happy with that. Iniguez has decided to make a spectacle of his arrest by the Azusa Police Department. The problem is, Mr. Iniguez is refusing to relay ALL of the facts of the incident.

The facts of the case will eventually be released, and when this frivolous and retaliatory complaint is complete, I am most certain the officer will be found to have been in complete compliance with the State law, and Department policy. The officer that arrested Mr. Iniguez did so with full legal authority and without malice.

Mr. Iniguez is attempting to abuse his power as a senior member of the LA County District Attorneys Office, and using it to get him out of trouble. Fortunately for Mr. Iniguez, Azusa PD is currently being led by a Police Chief whom is cowering to Iniguez’ political pressure. The Chief will seek to please Mr. Iniguez and investigate a “by the book” arrest, instead of supporting his officer, who is a seasoned field supervisor, with several awards that he has received throughout his career for being exemplary and brave, including several awards by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his outstanding efforts to reduce DUI collisions in our community.

The Azusa Police Officers Association stands behind the officer that made the arrest, and for doing his job, unlike the department administration.

Mr. Iniguez and his office are quick to blame officers for wrong doing, but they refuse to look in the mirror to put any fault on themselves when they get caught so intoxicated in public they can no longer care for their own safety.

Here is Iniguez’s booking information:

Credit: Twitter, @MelG679

Murder at the Beach

Dockweiler Beach is a beautiful state park in the Santa Monica Bay. Known for bonfires and barbecues, Dockweiler has plenty of parking and is a short drive from the gang-infested neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. On March 17, 1995, two couples got into a car and drove there together. They would not all return alive.

That same day, several members of the Limehood Piru Street Bloods were at the beach. Kenji Howard and Edward Powell, and several others had driven down in a car and spent the day causing trouble. According to witnesses, Powell brought a gun he had obtained by trading away cocaine. He shot at several airplanes landing or departing from nearby Los Angeles International Airport.

At 10:00 p.m., when the beach closes, police officers arrived and ordered everyone to leave. While walking back to the cars, someone heard a voice out of Powell’s car say, “give me the strap,” meaning “give me the gun.”

The entrance to the 105 freeway where murders occurred. Credit: Insterstate-guide.com.

Edward Powell drove his car after the car containing the two couples. As the two cars entered the freeway, Powell pulled the car containing the Bloods up next to the car containing the two couples.

The Bloods in Powell’s car flashed gang signs. None of the two couples were gang members. Then someone in the Blood car started shooting at the two couples. Approximately 10 shots were fired. Witnesses described seeing shots from the back passenger seat. That is where Kenji Howard was sitting. Later, Howard admitted to shooting his gun out of the window.

One of the four friends was killed immediately. That was Arkett Mejia, a young woman on leave from the Air Force to attend her parents’ 25th anniversary. Another one of the four friends, Travon Johnson, was also shot. He did not die immediately. He was paralyzed from the neck down and lived for 18 years, until 2013, in a coma. Then he succumbed to his injuries.

One of the two victims: Arkett Mejia. Credit Santa Monica Observer/Facebook

Powell drove Howard back to the gang’s territory. Howard was arrested the next day in possession of the gun. The gun was confiscated, tested, and determined to be the murder weapon. Officers also impounded Powell’s vehicle and noted that the rear windows did not roll down.

Who Shot?

After Howard was arrested with the gun, he was released, probably because he was a minor. Howard was interviewed nine days after he was caught with the gun. He waived his Miranda rights and said that he saw Powell, “firing seven or eight shots.” In other words, he told the police that someone else was the murderer. “Numerous witnesses” said they saw Powell firing the shots.

Police are understandably suspicious of statements like that. Howard’s other statements did not give the detectives much confidence. He said he was sleeping when the shooting occurred, even though it was only 2 minutes by car from the beach parking lot. He falsely claimed that he had bought the gun from Powell the day after the shooting. He was released after the interview on his promise to return the next day. He broke this promise and fled to Seattle. He remained on the run for six weeks until he was captured.

After he was captured in Seattle, Howard interviewed again. Again, he denied being the shooter. He failed a polygraph. He was interrogated for three hours. Then he changed his story. He said that two other men made him shoot the gun. He said he “had not meant to hurt anyone.” He was not paying attention to where he was “capping” the rounds and had just shot out the window. He did not find out until a couple of days later that he had actually killed someone. He gave details about how he shot. He said he wrested his wrist on top of the open window in the door, pointed the gun downward, and fired several shots.

Howard confessed a second time to different investigators. He explained that Powell handed him the gun and threatened to hurt him if he did not shoot at the other car.

Kenji Howard was charged with murder. At trial, Howard retracted his confession and went back to his original story. He said that he was asleep when he was awakened by gunshots. He saw Powell reach over another man and shoot through the open front passenger window. The jury convicted him of firearm possession and hung on the remaining counts. The district attorney chose to retry the case. The second convicted Howard of murder and a grab-bag of other crimes. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 35 years, plus seven additional years. Howard appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and sentence.

Kenji Howard on a poster from Change.org

The Forensic Evidence

Investigators found gunshot residue on the front passenger door opposite Powell, who was driving. Howard was in the back passenger seat. GSR was found along the mid-section of the right passenger door along the top of it from from to back. Generally, the GSR was towards the center of the door. There was no GSR on the frame of the right passenger door, outside the car.

The GSR expert discussed Howard’s confession. He said that it was inconsistent with the forensic evidence. If the confession was true, and Howard was holding the gun outside and pointed down, it would not leave gunshot residue inside of the door at all. He did not consider whether the confession might be partially true, whether Howard might have changed the details to minimize his guilt, or any other scenario. He simply said that the portion of Howard’s confession where he described the position of his hands was not true.

Moreover, the shots into the victims’ car were “back to front,” meaning that the shooter’s gun must have been in front of the target car. But this which would seem to rule out Howard firing forward from the back seat through the front passenger window.

The People brought their own firearms expert. This expert disputed the conclusions of the first expert. Instead, he said he could not rule out the rear passenger as the shooter. He also said, however, that the evidence was also consistent with the driver being the shooter.

Lime Hood Piru graffiti. Credit: Unitedgangs.com

How Howard Got His Conviction Overturned

Because he was 16 years old at the time of the crime, Howard was given a “fitness hearing,” to determine if he was fit to be tried in adult court. A judge in juvenile court determined that it was appropriate to try Howard in adult court and transferred him there. He insisted on his trial, which eventually resulted in his conviction.

Powell, an adult, was also convicted of murder as an aider and abetter. Both convictions were either not appealed or upheld on appeal.

Both men went to prison. With no appeals left, both men were out of moves. The only thing they could do was finish their time. But men with access to a law library and time on their hands should not be counted out.

Whether or not this statement is true, it cost Powell nothing. He was already convicted of the crime. The punishment for a shooter and an aider/abetter is the same. In other words, Powell is man with nothing to lose by saying these things. As the court noted, he has not been given anything for his confession. But it has not cost him anything either. And his gang has a lot to gain. Howard could get out.

After Powell confessed, the Court of Appeal granted Howard’s writ of Habeas Corpus and sent it back to the trial court for a retrial. The office that would retry the case was the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office led by DA George Gascon.

LADA George Gascon

What Gascon Did

Since Kenji Howard was 16 at the time of the incident, he was returned to juvenile court for another hearing about whether to transfer him back to adult court. When he got there, the assigned prosecutor had been given a script to read into the record. The script was from Chief Deputy Sharon Woo. It said that Howard “was a minor  at the time of this offense. It is the policy of District Attorney George Gascón not to pursue transfer hearings to adult court. Accordingly, this matter will remain in juvenile court.”

Juvenile court supervision ends at 25, but Howard is older, and cannot be supervised there. In other words, he will get out immediately. Sharon Woo allowed him to be released immediately, without considering the merits of the case. But she went farther, and dismissed the case.

“In weighing the evidentiary challenges of proceeding to an adjudication [juvenile court trial] and the reality that no additional penalties can be imposed, the District Attorney’s Office has concluded that its current resource constraints and overarching policy considerations and broad discretion favor dismissal of this matter.

The District Attorney determines how best to represent society’s interest in prosecuting criminal offenses. Here the interest of justice and society’s interest as represented by District Attorney Gascón are best served by allocating the limited resources of the District Attorney’s Office to more critical needs.”

To summarize, the LADA received the case and dismissed it without even consider whether the defendant was guilty.

How LADA Will Make Kenji Howard a Millionaire

Now that charges are dismissed, Howard is asking for a finding of factual innocence. (Pen. Code, 851.8.) Remember, the appellate court only found that the defendant should be retried. It did not exonerate him. After all, he confessed. The LADA would have to oppose this motion. Given their position on the juvenile adjudication, it is clear that they will not use the same resources required for trial to oppose this motion.

LADA will allow the finding of factual innocence. Once this happens, the defendant is entitled to receive $140 a day from the California Victim Compensation Board. (Gov’t. Code, 4904.) This would result in an award of $1.2 million dollars to Howard that would otherwise go to other victims, like the families of Arkett and Travon.

This finding would also allow Howard to sue the state. This would result in legal fees paid by taxpayers. And of course, any recovery will be paid by taxpayers. Ironically, the victims’ families can’t get any of this money from Howard because the statute of limitations has run on their suits.

What Should Have Happened

Kenji Howard should be retried as an adult. First, it is appropriate to try him as an adult because the crime he confessed to, murder, is not ethically complex. Five-year-olds know that murder is wrong. Certainly, Kenji Howard knew that going to the beach with a bunch of gang members, shooting at airplanes, getting into a fight, and shooting into an occupied vehicle were wrong. It would be farce to claim that his “developing brain” prevented him from seeing this, or that it rendered him unable to resist the urge to murder people. The first judge was correct: this case belongs in adult court.

Second, Howard should be retried. This case is not black and white. The concerns raised by the appellate court, particularly those about the GSR evidence, are real. A jury should hear them and make a decision. Powell’s confession should be tested on cross-examination, which it hasn’t. The GSR experts should each testify to the jury, and the jury should decide which is more credible. All the other witnesses should testify as well. 1.2 million dollars is enough to pay the annual salary of 15 teachers. That’s an entire school. You and your neighbors should not give this money to a confessed killer unless there is a jury determination that he is not guilty.

Notes

I heard about this by reading an excellent article by Kathleen Cady for the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys. It was also published in the Antelope Valley Times.

The Superior Court Criminal Memorandum of Decision on Howard’s Petition for Habeas Corpus.

Full version of the poster shown above, created by Mary Sutton.

An interview with a 17-year-old Lime Stree gang member.

Will Reed Hastings Change His Mind?

The Netflix CEO supported changes to the law that may have contributed to a death in the family of his partner. He may have been convinced to support weakening the criminal law by the media, but will this personal tragedy be enough to wake him up?

Reed Hastings and Jacqueline Avant

Reed Hastings’ first name is Wilmot, which means “little Wilhelm” in German. Hastings went to a fancy Boston private school, joined the Marines, washed out, and joined the Peace Corp. His favorite movie is Sophie’s Choice, which is an odd pick, to say the least. Hastings is famous for co-founding Netflix. He came up with the idea after losing a rental copy of Apollo 13.

Hastings is generous with his money. For example, he has donated $1,000,000 to Los Angeles Unified School District to help with COVID relief. In 2020 Hastings donated $1,000,000 to the Center for Policing Equity, a research center founded at UCLA. That group was founded by a professor who also founded the “California-based queer hip hop group Deep Dickollective.” That detail is irrelevant to his work at the CPE, but it does make me wonder if he is a serious person.

Hasting’s wife, Patty Quillin, is also charitable and political. She opposed Proposition 20 which would have toughened some laws against theft. “Issues surrounding social and racial justice animate her,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. She donated to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. But that’s not the only District Attorney that Hastings’ family funded. Quillin also donated 1,253,000 to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon. Hastings donated $500,000 himself.

Ted Sarandos is co-CEO of Netflix alongside Hastings. His wife is Nicole Avant, and his mother-in-law is Jacqueline Avant. Why is it important to know who Reed Hastings’ partner’s mother-in-law is?

Jacqueline Avant Was Shot and Killed in Her Home

The Beverly Hills Police Department received a call at 2:23 a.m. about a home invasion. Someone came onto her property, shot at her security guard, and smashed a sliding glass door. Apparently the security guard did not return fire. The burglar entered the house and shot Avant in the stomach. Her husband, Clarence Avant, was home at the time. Jacqueline was alert and speaking when paramedics arrived, but later died. She was 81.

Suspect Ariel Maynor

The Beverly Hills Police Department arrested a suspect, Ariel Maynor, and confiscated his AR-15 rifle. The 29-year-old’s vehicle was seen on surveillance videos driving eastbound out of the city after the shooting. Maynor was arrested after he apparently committed a second shooting and burglary just hours later. He invaded the home of a father and his 17-year-old daughter. LAPD’s Hollywood Division was alerted to a shooting and burglary call. They found Maynor in the back yard of the home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot. The watch commander realized that the the two crimes might be connected and summoned Beverly Hills detectives.

Maynor is a parolee. He was released on September 1 after serving four years for second-degree robbery. He has previous convictions for robbery and grand theft. He is supposed to be under the supervision of the parole department. According to the Beverly Hills police, “it didn’t sound as if he was reporting to his parole agent at all.” Parole violations, such as failure to report to a parole agent, can return a felon to prison.

Jacqueline Avant is Not The Only One

Crime is up in Los Angeles. According to the LA Times:

Homicides are up 46.7% compared with 2019, while shooting victims are up 51.4%, according to police data. As of the end of November, there had been 359 homicides in L.A. in 2021, compared with 355 in all of 2020. There have not been more homicides in one year since 2008, which ended with 384.

That newspaper, whose editorializing on crime is slanted towards “progressive prosecutors,” ran an article titled, “Brazen Crimes Shake LA.” The authors note that “violent crime has jumped sharply in L.A.” The New York Post describes a “violent LA crime wave” and include a quote:

“It’s a s–t show over here,” said LAPD Det. Jamie McBride, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a police union. “Bad guys are released quicker than we can finish the paper work, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Why Does This Matter?

This matters to the family of Jacqueline Avant, who should not have been murdered in her own home, even at 81. But it also implicates the weakening of the justice system advocated by Hastings. Before Hastings and others poured money into the LADA race last year, the murderer of Mrs. Avant would have faced stiff penalties. But now, thanks in part to Mr. Hastings, he will not have to worry about these stiff penalties. Tragically, Mrs. Avant’s family will also not have the benefit of the laws our legislature put in place to prevent this type of murder from happening.

Prosecutors will have several charges to choose from. Before Hastings’ money got involved, prosecutors would have filed murder in the first degree, with the special circumstance of murder in the course of burglary. This would make Maynor eligible for death or life without parole. They could also choose leniency, although it’s not clear why they would. If they choose not to seek the special circumstance, Maynor would be eligible for parole in 25 years. This could be doubled due to his prior strikes to 50 years. Prosecutors could also extend his sentence for using an AR-15 by an additional life sentence with parole eligibility in 25 years. In other words, prosecutors could choose between death, life with no parole, or life with parole in 75 years.

The District Attorney’s Office files the charges and enhancements. If Maynor is convicted, the judge will sentence him, and can decide which of these to use. The important point is that the DA has to use these tools just to give the judge the option to take parole off the table. If the DA doesn’t file these charges, the judge cannot file them on her own, and Maynor may parole one day.

The problem is, LADA George Gascon is refusing to apply the special circumstance law in any case. And ironically this is exactly what Hastings wanted. Under Gascon, everybody is eligible for parole, including repeat violent felons, like Maynor. He believes that it is his right, not the legislature’s, to decide which laws get applied in Los Angeles County. For example, Gascon recently failed to apply the special circumstance enhancement to a man who shot and killed his four children and mother in law in Lancaster.

Maynor already got a break from the DA’s office under Gascon’s predecessor, Jackie Lacey. In 2018 he was convicted of robbery. Because of his record, he was ineligible for probation. The minimum he should have been eligible to receive was 2 years, the low term for robbery. This should have been doubled due to his prior strike. He also had a prior “serious felony” conviction, which adds an additional 5 years, bringing his total minimum exposure to 9 years. However, the DA’s office appears to have “struck” the serious felony conviction that would have added 5 years. Jacqueline Avant would be alive today if that 5 years had been imposed.

Reed Hastings and his wife support policies that enable killings of this type. Clearly, Maynor needed to do more time. Hastings, who seems like a man who means well, was sold a scam labeled “reform.” Many others are in the same boat. Compassion for our communities, especially communities of color, sometimes means being tough on crime. As long as some focus exclusively on compassion for convicted criminals, victims will continue to suffer. But our media diet, our income-segregated neighborhoods, and our politics mean that some people will never know how crime works in real life. It takes a tragedy among their friends and neighbors before they wake up. Hopefully Reed Hastings and his wife will wake up.

Notes

A columnist in the LA Times says, “Don’t Turn Jacqueline Avant’s Shooting Into a Political Football.” They interviewed a family friend of Jacqueline Avant’s, who said they were “cringing,” and continued, “we don’t want this to become a battle cry of the left or the right.” They did not explain why voters weren’t entitled to a vivid example of the consequences of their choices.

Nicole Avant, the daughter of the victim, hired an armed security guard. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the ability of local police to keep her safe.

A careful read of the LA Times coverage mentioned above shows the reporters did not keep their politics out of the article. Shootings and murders are up about 50% this year, but the authors did not describe the violence as a “crime wave.” Instead, they are quick to point out that crime has also jumped in other cities, and that maybe the pandemic is to blame, or “COVID-19 angst” or “a new holiday season upon which brick-and-mortar retailers are relying to stay afloat.” They do not speculate about whether recent dramatic changes to the criminal law are to blame. Instead, they speculate about “pandemic related policies that have allowed many nonviolent arrestees to be released without bail” instead of pointing out that the DA George Gascon’s policy is to never request bail. This is is almost shockingly dishonest. The DA has ordered his prosecutors not to request bail in virtually all cases. How can the reporters describe that as a “pandemic related policy?” This exactly the kind of bias that misleads people, because it not likely to be noticed by the general reader. The reporters also decided to describe the approach of Gascon as a “strong reform agenda,” instead of using a neutral term. They quote a business owner who wants the laws to be enforced in two paragraphs but give five paragraphs to BLM leader Melina Abdullah.

The Minneapolis 8

George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Days later, the City Council pledge to dismantle its police force, saying that it cannot be reformed. Although they failed to deliver on that pledge, they cut the police budget and officers began leaving. Crime went up, and residents were force to sue their own city just to get the minimum number of police required by the City Charter. But the plaintiffs, called “the Minneapolis 8,” actually managed to force the City to refund the police. This victory for common sense may cause a change in the conversation around policing.

Minneapolis Defunds the Police

Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 27, 2020, causing national outrage and protests in Minneapolis. Instead of blaming the officer that killed Floyd, many activist blamed the police force as a whole. They wanted to punish everyone at the Minneapolis Police Department by defunding the police. Instead of having an honest conversation about the consequences, local leaders decided to go along with the tide of resentment against the police.

But there were warning signs from the start. Jacob Frey was the mayor of Minneapolis on June 6, 2020. Thousands of protesters outside his house asked whether he supported defunding the police. He said, “I do not support the full abolition of the police.” He was met with chants of “shame!” and “Go home Jacob, go home!” He fled his own house as the protesters chanted at him.

The City Council did not take the lesson. The next day, on June 7, 2020, members of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” They described the “police-free future.” The MPD “cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions.” Councilmember Alondra Cano said, “we should and can abolish our current Minneapolis police system. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said, “This council is going to dismantle this police department.” They were standing above a sign that read, “DEFUND POLICE.”

The outright abolition of the MPD would require an amendment to the city’s charter. That’s because the charter requires a police department. Section 7.3 provides: “The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident.”

In August, efforts to change the charter failed. The city’s Charter Commission voted to block an amendment that would dismantle and remove the city’s police force. This is a group of city volunteers appointed by a judge. They pointed out that the proposal did not comply with several different laws, including public input laws.

Then, a proposal to cut the size of the force by 15% was voted down by the Council.

By the fall, crime was up 25%, driven by big jumps in car burglaries and shootings. In September, many council members backed away from their pledges. But the council continued to try to weaken the department.

On December 10, 2020, the Minneapolis City Council cut the Minneapolis Police Department budget by 4.5%. The Council used they money to fund an Office of Violence Prevention, a group of mental health professionals who would respond to calls for service without the aid of the police. The council’s pledge caused many officers to quit.

Crime Went Up After the Police Were Defunded

The spike in crime during and after the Council’s defund pledge was “extraordinary,” according to U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. Gun violence surged in the summer of 2020. Violent crime was up 17% across Minnesota in 2020. There were 48 murders in Minneapolis in 2019. There were 84 in 2020, and there have been 67 as of September 11, 2021. Murders in 2021 are on pace to surpass murders in 2020.

The murder count represents only a small fraction of gun crimes. Data show a record number of gunshot wounds reported since last year. In the first six months of 2021, Minneapolis surpassed shots fired citywide in all of 2019, according to ShotSpotter activations, shooting reports and other data tracked by local law enforcement agencies. This year is on track to surpass 2020s record-high 9,600 gunfire reports. The past 20 months now account for almost a quarter of the 70,000 gunshot incidents reported in Minneapolis since 2008.

Frontline, Minneapolis’ bloody summer puts city on pace for most violent year in a generation, (9/11/2021).

The Lawsuit

City residents became increasingly frustrated with rising crime. Cathy Spann and seven other Minneapolis residents sued the city. They pointed out that the City Charter required a minimum number of police in the city. Efforts by the City Council and activists had reduced the size of the police force below that minimum. “It is about all of us coming together to make a difference to stop the gun violence that is in our city,” said Spann. “We walked outside and I pulled this bullet out of my house. Out of my home, out of my siding,” said another plaintiff. “Every single night on any block in this neighborhood you can hear gunshots!” Spann said. “Every single freaking night!”

Some of the Minneapolis 8. Source: KSTP.

The defendants argued that no plaintiff had standing to bring a lawsuit, since none had actually been hurt. The judge rejected this claim and allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

In June, Judge Jamie Anderson granted a writ of mandamus: the Minneapolis 8 had won. In her decision, Anderson said the Minneapolis residents were able to prove that the city’s rising crime rate was caused by a lack of officers. The City Council had violated the charter by “their failure to support and fund the police.” The Council conceded that “the City Charter creates the obligation for [the Council] to properly fund the police force.”  Mayor Frey, who was booed out of his own house in 2020, was deposed in the lawsuit. He “acknowledged” that “the uptick in violence we are seeing” “is because police officers are needed.”

The judge concluded that the council “[has] failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law.” She ordered the city to hire more officers. Specifically, she ordered the city of maintain at least 730 officers, up from 690 as of April.

Where Are We Now?

The City Council and activists haven’t given up. Advocates of defunding police support a ballot initiative this November. Under the Yes 4 Minneapolis initiative,  the Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a Department of Public Safety, eliminating the city’s required minimum number of officers per capita and replacing some with social workers, mental health experts and crisis managers — effectively defunding the local police by reallocating funds to other city services. Critics say the initiative would simply rename the police force and allow the Council to declare victory. Even the website for this initiative says that the amendment neither abolishes nor defunds the police.

Other cities watched the Minneapolis experiment closely. For example, Los Angeles also moved to defund the police at the city and county levels. But crime is on the rise in Los Angeles too. And many local politicians there want to avoid the embarrassment suffered by the City Council in Los Angeles. For those of us that pay attention to crime and public policy, the Minneapolis experience seems to demonstrate that defunding the police is like cutting off the nose to spite the face. The effect of such a policy is only more pain in poor communities of color. Compassion for those communities requires more resources, not less, devoted to them. And physical safety is a bedrock government service. Without safety, other services are impossible.

Notes

Reddit has a bunch of cynical takes:

The Big Picture in Philadelphia

Many people have asked me if I watched the recent PBS documentary about Larry Krasner. So I started watching. I immediately noticed that the documentary lacked context about crime in Philadelphia. Is it high? Is it low? Context matters. Crime rate is perhaps the most important and basic contextual information that viewers should have.

Philadelphia consistently ranks above the national average in terms of crime, especially violent offenses. It has the highest violent crime rate of the ten American cities with a population greater than 1 million residents. Many crimes are not reported, so an estimate of the actual crime rate can be difficult. But homicide is virtually always reported or discovered. So criminologists often look to the homicide rate as the most accurate way to estimate the overall crime rate. Philadelphia’s homicide rate is awful.

Year20162017201820192020
Number of Homicides277315351356499
Philadelphia Homicide Rate17.421.122.222.731.8
Source: Wikipedia

Philadelphia compares badly to California and the rest of the country.

Year20162017201820192020
Los Angeles Homicide Rate6.15.75.65.08.6*
California Homicide Rate4.94.64.44.25.5
National Homicide Rate5.35.34.25.05.7*
Source: Wikipedia; Crime in California; *Crime Data Explorer [preliminary data]; FBI/UCR; LA Almanac; *LA Daily News [estimate].

The best comparison would be to the City of Los Angeles. Philadelphia has nearly four times the murder rate of Los Angeles. That is an incredible number. Compared to the California and national homicide rate, Philadelphia fares even worse. Based on the statistics, you are almost six times as likely to get murdered in Philadelphia than the State of California.

These statistics show that crime is high in Philadelphia. What role does Larry Krasner have in this failure, as District Attorney? Statistics are hard to come by in this area. But we should remember the basics. First, prosecutors can lower crime by incapacitating criminals in prison. An imprisoned criminal is not out committing homicides, obviously, and prosecutors have the largest role in determining sentence length. Second, Krasner does not want to exercise this power. He does not believe in long-term incapacitation. Third, the recent national crime wave has hit Philadelphia harder than the nation as a whole, harder than California, and harder than Los Angeles. A reasonable person should ask, “Is Krasner’s failure to incapacitate criminals part of the reason why Philadelphia is suffering?”

I’m sure there are more complicated issues raised by the show. But when I think about the big picture, I’d like to know whether Krasner is doing his job, and it looks like he isn’t.