Consequences — there must be consequences for our actions, or there will be hell to pay. The punishment must fit the crime. Without that, at least as a shared principle, what do we have?
That's what justice for all is all about: the balance between freedom and discipline, between crime and punishment, between the individual and the collective rights and interests.
That, I think, is a proposition that is in some dispute today on many levels, not the least of which involves the governor and Legislature's enactment last year of Assembly Bill 109, a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system that was done without regard for the consequences, not even holding a public hearing where cops and prosecutors could have put their two cents in.
It was panicked reaction to years of reckless spending, lack of accountability and a series of judicial condemnations of prisoner maltreatment and overcrowding. All they cared about was getting 20,000 felons out of state prisons and dumping them onto our streets or into our local jails, 40% of them in L.A. County.
Ask Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa and his command staff about AB 109 and how they are having to spend $1 million a year on the problem despite $8 million less in their budget and 18 fewer cops on the force. You'll learn a lot about consequences, the consequences to your safety as law-abiding citizens and the lack of consequences for career criminals as long as they fit in loosely defined and inconsistently applied definitions of the 3N's — nonserious, nonviolent, nonsexual felonies.
“When you dismantle the state penal system and throw it on the backs of local government saying we are better equipped to deal with it — that is a farce. It's not true. There are serious consequences,” De Pompa said in an interview last week. “They have overwhelmed the system. The result is public safety will be jeopardized for a long time to come. As law enforcement professionals across the county, we're seeing the anecdotal evidence of violent crime that we believe will change the public safety landscape for a very long time.”
The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, and the tsunami of a crime wave is yet to come as the full impact of prison realignment is felt — unless you think the politicians know more about crime than cops and prosecutors.
The recent arrest of N3 probationer Ka Pasasouk as the alleged gunman in the Dec. 2 quadruple murder in Northridge exposed just how precarious and flawed prison realignment is. At the Los Angeles County district attorney's urging — now admitted to be a “mistake” — Pasasouk was allowed to enter drug treatment in September for a probation violation despite a long and violent criminal record.
Two others arrested as accomplices have criminal records in Glendale.
Glendale Police Capt. Michael Rock and Lt. Susan Heyn have compiled an 18-month log of incidents involving parolees and probationers and use a sophisticated database Parole LEADS 2.0 to stay on top of all 225 of them living in Glendale.
Most of the incidents involve drugs, theft, burglary, weapons possession that before realignment could have sent them back to state prison. Not anymore.
Instead of long periods under supervision by state parole officers, they now face probationary periods of just 12 months in most cases and are supervised by county probation officers whose caseloads have jumped from 40 to 1 to as high as 200 to 1.
“We caught two guys on parole recently burglarizing a home, but they wound up getting only eight and 10 days in county jail instead of long stretches back in prison,” De Pompa said. “The trouble is you get people with drug problems and mental issues who are unstable, homeless and you can't you leverage them into the kinds of support programs they need because they know the consequences are not significant if they stick to property crimes.
“The sanctions through probation are really nonexistent for the most part. So what are they going to do? They're going to take the path of least resistance, especially in this economic climate. What's the path of least resistance? To go back to what they know best, a life of crime.”
Major reforms were needed, but what the governor and Legislature has wrought is a criminal justice system that is not a system anymore with the burden falling on local police
“Our lower crime rates are directly attributable to determinate sentencing and three strikes. We're taking that small percentage of the population that probably creates 70% of the crime problem and we we're locking them up for progressively longer periods and getting them off the street ,and we were enjoying the greatest level of public safety in decades,” De Pompa said. “That will change now. In essence, the state threw the baby out with the bath water. It is the responsibility of the state to provide an effective penal system, but you cannot have effective crime control without true accountability.
“They simply displaced overcrowding problems and the funding issues to the local level. In the long term, the cost in victimization, in crime, will far outweigh the short-term cost saving.”
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.