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Police chief says Whittier officer's slaying shows danger of criminal justice reform, but details are unclear

(Video by Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper says the man suspected of shooting an officer to death on Monday is an example of how statewide efforts to reduce incarceration of certain criminals can have tragic consequences.

"We need to wake up. Enough is enough," Piper said at an emotional news conference on Monday, the day Officer Keith Boyer was killed. "This is a senseless, senseless tragedy that did not need to be."

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But authorities have yet to release the name of the suspect, so it's unclear how the criminal justice reform measures may have affected his incarceration or release. Authorities say they will release his name on Tuesday.

What do we know about the suspect?

Not much. He is 26. Police said he was released from custody early, but they did not provide details on his criminal history or why he was released.

It's unclear what crimes placed him in custody to begin with. Police described him as a known gang member.

Hours before his run-in with Whittier police, the man is suspected of fatally shooting his 46-year-old cousin in East Los Angeles and stealing his car. The slain man was identified as Roy Torres.

What laws are the chief and other law enforcement officials referring to?

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell pointed to three measures enacted in the last seven years — Propositions 47 and 57 and Assembly Bill 109 — that he said have led to the release of too many criminals without creating a proper safety net of mental health, drug rehabilitation and other services.

"We're putting people back on the street that aren't ready to be back on the street," McDonnell said. He said the county jail system he runs, the largest in the nation, has become a "default state prison."

Sheriff's officials have long criticized Proposition 47, which was approved by voters in 2014 and downgraded some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

They say AB 109 — which moved state prisoners to local lockups — has pushed lower-level offenders out of custody and onto the streets, offering little deterrent against committing new crimes.

Proposition 57, which passed last year, changed California's "three strikes" rule and made sentencing more flexible, allowing some prisoners who wouldn't normally have been eligible for early parole to be considered for release.

A day after one Whittier police officer was shot and killed and another wounded, Whittier residents come to a growing memorial to grieve Officer Keith W. Boyer.
Haven’t police blamed Proposition 47 for crime increases?

Yes. LAPD officials and those in other agencies believe the ballot measure is one reason for a rise in crime, but Proposition 47 backers dispute that.

In Los Angeles County, the jail population has decreased, from 18,500 inmates just before Proposition 47 passed to about 16,500 inmates in November. Narcotics arrests have dropped, with busy police officers deciding that the time needed to process a case is not worth it.

The result, some law enforcement officials say, is that more criminals are now on the streets instead of in jail and are not receiving the drug and mental health treatment the measure had promised. Without the threat of a felony prosecution, they say, defendants are less likely to choose treatment as an alternative to serving time.

But supporters of Proposition 47 dispute the theory that crime increases are connected to the measure. Misdemeanors can still result in sentences of up to a year in jail, and it is up to police officers and prosecutors to enforce those penalties, Michael Romano, a lecturer at Stanford Law School told The Times in December.

"The idea that Proposition 47 has been responsible for an increase in crime in California over the past year or two is fake news, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

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