SECTION FIVE: Improving Law Enforcement and Police/Community Relations


Many Californians believe that the all-Anglo jury composition was a major factor contributing to the Rodney King verdict. Some even feel that too little attention is paid to the ethnic makeup of juries. This feeling may best be expressed by Cynthia McClain Hill, a Los Angeles attorney who was a television commentator on the King case,

    "Justice is beginning to confront political reality. What we are seeing is an increasing awareness that while justice may be blind, it can't be colorblind. You need ethnic interaction on juries in order to produce a just result, as much as you need ethnic interaction in society."

Recommendation/ Action #15

    Establish a process of review for proposed changes of venue.

As public policy makers we are attempting to address this issue through legislation such as last session's Assembly Bill 3828 (Connelly) and Senate BW 2069 (Marks). These bills would have established a formal hearing mechanism to determine to which new county a criminal case shall be transferred. Additionally, the bills enumerated the criteria to be considered by the judge. including the demographic characteristics of the proposed new counties. Nothing in these bills changed the manner in which the underlying decision, whether to grant a change of venue or not, is made.

After the court has determined that a change is required, unless waived by the parties, the court must conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine which county should receive the case. A major consideration is the demographic characteristics of the county or counties in which the court or courts suggested are located.

Recommendation/ Action #16

    Strengthen penalties for looting and arson committed during emergencies.

Still fresh in our memories are the scenes of the looting rampage and flaming buildings during the unrest that occurred in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict. The Senate Task Force cannot ignore the tragedy of this urban uprising. Nor can we condone this behavior.

In the wake of this disturbance more than 5,800 felony cases were filed, mostly for burglary and many for arson. Under current law many of these "looters" would only be charged with second degree burglary, or petty or grand theft and probably receive probation and serve no time, since their crimes were not committed during a "state of emergency" or a "local emergency' resulting from an earthquake or a flood. The arsonists would be punished by only three, five or seven years in prison.

In light of the circumstances. in which these crimes occurred, this punishment is too lenient. Two bills which were before the Legislature this last session addressed this problem and are now law: Senate Bills 2066 and 2067 by Senator Roberti.

Senate Bill 2066 adds second degree burglary, or petty or grand theft during a "fire, riot, or other natural or manmade disasters," to the "looting" statute. Penal Code Section 463. As a result. looters convicted of second degree burglary or grand theft would have to serve a mandatory 180 days in jail if probation is granted and a mandatory 90 days if convicted of petty theft. Assembly Bill 41X is identical to this bill.

To address the issue of arson, Senate Bill 2067 adds possession of a firebomb to the offenses punishable by three, five or seven years in state prison if committed during a state of emergency or insurrection and increases the state prison sentence to five, seven, or nine years for arson of an inhabited structure or arson causing great bodily injury during a state of insurrection or emergency.

In addition to the two previously mentioned bills, Senate Bill 2068 (Roberti) adds looting and arson to the list of offenses for which the governor can offer a reward during a state of emergency.

Recommendation/ Action #17

    Increase penalties for drug offenses.

Most Californians remain firmly convinced that drugs represent the gravest present threat to the state's well-being. Fear of drugs and attendant crime are at an all-time high. Rates of drug related homicide continue to rise at an alarming rate in Los Angeles. Reports of bystander deaths due to drug-related gunfights and drive-by shootings continue to climb.

Our intent is to help control the drug problem in California, and especially in Los Angeles, through the increase in the time to be served by felons convicted of criminal drug offenses.

Under current law, sentence enhancements may be applied in the prosecution of large scale drug dealers. Dealers with 100 pounds of controlled substances are punished to the same extent as dealers with 50 pounds or more of controlled substances. The current enhancements range from three to 15 years.

The Senate Task Force supports increasing the upper level of the enhancement to 20 years and establishes new intermediate increments so that the smaller drug dealers can be effectively punished.

Recommendation/ Action #18

    Assess the impact of new local and state efforts to address the negative impact on children when the children's parents are incarcerated.

The Task Force agrees that the criminal justice system should be made more sensitive to the needs of women and children. There have been new efforts in this area recently. Some of this discussion has been incorporated into the larger debate about alternative sentencing procedures. The Senate Task Force was unsatisfied with the quality of information on this subject as the Final Report was being prepared. The Task Force will be seeking new and up to date information on this subject from women’s groups active in this aspect of criminal justice.

Recommendation/ Action #19

    Implement programs such as community policing to improve law enforcement and police community relations.

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, many citizens question the relationship of the Los Angeles Police and Sheriffs departments with the communities that they serve.

The Christopher Commission found that the Los Angeles Police Department has an organizational culture that emphasizes crime control over crime prevention and that isolates the police from the community. This style of policing produces results, but it does so at the risk of creating a siege mentality that alienates the officer from the community.

This same type of "culture" appears to exist in the Los Angeles Sheriffs department also, based on other investigations.

A significant recommendation of the Christopher Commission was that the Los Angeles Police Department implement community policing in order to make a fundamental change in the values of the department. Community policing is a method of law enforcement that creates procedures by which community priorities are incorporated into police operations, shifting the focus from "solving crime" to "problem solving." It changes the emphasis to prevention.

The Senate Special Task Force endorses this approach. Further, while members of the Senate Task Force recognize the need for additional police personnel to deal with the high levels of crime in Los Angeles communities, members believe that the citizens and public officials in Los Angeles are unlikely to support measures to raise new funds for this purpose until there has been more progress in implementing measures to improve police/community relations.

Community policing focuses on the substantive issues of crime, and the quality of life in neighborhoods. Citizens bring to the relationship their sense of community, knowledge about the problems In their neighborhoods, their own capacities to solve problems, and the potential to support or authorize law enforcement action. Law enforcement brings to the communities concerns not only for their welfare but for the constitutional rights and welfare of all individuals and the community-at-large.

Community policing implies a new relationship to the community in which law enforcement departments establish an understanding with the community. The concept of community policing envisages a law enforcement department striving for an absence of crime and disorder and concerned with, and sensitive to, the quality of life in the community. It perceives the community as an agent and partner in promoting security rather than as a passive audience.

The departments must recognize the merits of community involvement in matters that affect local neighborhoods, and above all must understand that they are accountable to all segments of the community.

Recommendation/ Action #20

    Urge new Los Angeles Police Chief Williams and Mayor Bradley to implement an innovative program to encourage police officers to move into communities in need of additional policing.

Los Angeles should establish a "Cops 'n the Hood" program. One city in South Carolina has worked to encourage police to both live and work in at-risk neighborhoods. This has two benefits: it provides a greater sense of neighborhood security, and breaks down resident/police barriers, giving cops a stake in the livability of the neighborhood and residents a more personal view of cops.

A program could work as follows: (1) Close down crack houses or other buildings used for criminal enterprises, or buildings with serious code violations; (2) Gain title to the buildings on behalf of the city or a neighborhood reinvestment corporation; (3) Rehabilitate the buildings with the help of a neighborhood job training program and/or preferred contractor list, to provide some construction jobs to local residents; (4) Provide homes at low interest rates (4%) with little or no down payment to police officers and their families who agree to live and work in the area. Funding could come from several sources: government-backed loan guarantees, local lenders, and employee pension fumds, secured by the property.

The Senate Task Force has contacted Mayor Bradley and Police Chief Willie Williams urging them to implement this program on at least a pilot basis.


New Inititatives for a New Los Angeles

Continue to Utilize Major Long-Term Development Projects to Enhance City and Community Economic Development

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