Public safety-minded La Cañadans attended a town hall forum Tuesday to learn more about the city's many crime-fighting resources as well as its vulnerabilities and how an apparent increase in crime could point to state laws in need of reform.
Hosted by the city of La Cañada Flintridge and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Lanterman Auditorium talk included law enforcement officials who explained crime trends and what's being done to keep citizens safe, as well as elected regional and state officials who provided a legislative look at crime laws past and present.
Also joining the forum were backers of a "Taking Back Our Community," a coalition of San Gabriel Valley municipalities that hopes to amend a set of controversial California laws they claim are having unintended negative impacts on public safety.
La Cañada Flintridge Public Safety Commission Chair Terry Manning explained how a strong public showing of worried residents at a Jan. 22 commission meeting inspired that evening's event.
"Although we are still one of the safest cities in California, this increase has impacted many of us directly — my home was burglarized in December — or indirectly, by our neighbors, family or friends being victims of these crimes," Manning told the more than 150 in attendance. "We felt we needed to bring the community together tonight to address these issues."
Michele Hanisee, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, explained three fairly recent changes in state law that have made it harder to detain and prosecute criminals.
AB-109 was approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 to ease overcrowding at state prisons by shifting the responsibility of supervising released nonviolent felons and parolees from state parole officers to county probation officers. Under that law, assault with a deadly weapon, rape of an unconscious victim and trafficking children for sex are considered "nonviolent" offenses.
The successful 2014 ballot measure Proposition 47 reduced criminal penalties for certain drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, such as thefts resulting in a loss of less than $950. Proposition 57, passed by voters in 2016, allowed certain nonviolent felons to become eligible for parole and created good behavior credits for early release.
Hanisee said the laws have caused a backlog at the county level, as jails become too crowded and staff too burdened with a new class of felons to address misdemeanor offenses. Reclassifying other offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies has put more criminals back onto city streets.
"A lot of these dangerous criminals absconded into our communities — they've just disappeared," Hanisse said. "Now, because no matter how many thefts you commit it's always a misdemeanor, it limits the police's ability to make an arrest. And these consequences are resulting in the underreporting of the thefts that are occurring."
Monrovia City Manager Oliver Chi said 37 local municipalities, including La Cañada Flintridge, formed the Taking Back Our Community Coalition to raise awareness of the adverse effects of the state's crime laws and help lobby for changes.
Until now, fierce advocates for and against AB-109 and propositions 47 and 57 have dominated the political conversation, as bills attempting to add or increase penalties have died in committee, Chi said.
Coalition members are collecting signatures for the Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, which aims to reclassify certain nonviolent crimes, restore accountability for serial thieves and organized theft rings and subject people convicted of drug, theft and domestic violence crimes to DNA collection.
"We think this is going to be an effective way to address a lot of the issues that we're dealing with here in California on the public safety front," Chi said.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) explained legislative efforts in progress, including his own Senate Bill 1266, which would require people with prior burglary offense convicted of a second-degree burglary to serve a mandatory minimum of 180 days in county jail and subject convicted burglars to GPS monitoring as a condition of parole.
"That way we'll be able to track where these people are," he said.
In a Q&A segment, audience members at Lanterman and people watching the event on Facebook Live asked pointed questions about sheriff's response times, school safety and how to make their homes and vehicles unattractive to burglars.
Moderator and La Cañada Mayor Mike Davitt promised officials would respond to all questions and post the responses on the city's website, www.lcf.ca.gov, and its social media accounts.