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9th Circuit to rehear challenge to state DNA law

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday to rehear a challenge to California’s law requiring law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from all adults arrested for felonies.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; spokeswoman Rebecca Farmer said Wednesday that oral arguments will be heard by an 11-judge “en banc” panel during the week of Sept. 17.

The state Legislature in 1998 enacted a law requiring DNA sampling from people convicted of certain offenses. But in 2004, 62 percent of California voters approved Proposition 69, which expanded the law to require DNA collection from “any adult person arrested or charged with any felony offense … immediately following arrest or during the booking.”

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit appellate court had upheld that law in February, finding “that the government’s compelling interests far outweigh arrestees’ privacy concerns” because “DNA analysis is an extraordinarily effective tool for law enforcement officials to identify arrestees, solve past crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation in March joined with the ACLU in calling for an en-banc rehearing, arguing that the warrantless seizure and repeated search of DNA taken from people who’ve merely been arrested – not convicted – is unconstitutional.

But in a brief filed in April arguing a rehearing, the state attorney general’s office noted that “(v)irtually every federal court to have considered the question agrees that the collection of a DNA sample for forensic identification, pursuant to a
lawful arrest and subject to statutory restrictions on collection, use and confidentiality, comports with the Fourth Amendment.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, Civil liberties, Public safety | 3 Comments »

Bay Area gets $7.4 mil to hire veterans as cops

The U.S. Justice Department today announced more than $111 million in Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant funding awards to more than 220 cities and counties to create or save about 800 law enforcement positions. All of the 600-plus new positions must be filled by veterans who served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001.

In the greater Bay Area, Alameda County got $1,875,000 for 15 positions; Antioch got $1,502,680 for five positions; Hayward got $3,602,644 for nine positions; and Santa Cruz got $375,000 for three positions.

Vice President Joe Biden, on a conference call with reporters today, said the administration believes veterans who had to “fight like hell” overseas shouldn’t have to fight quite so hard to find jobs here at home.

The COPS Hiring Program makes grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire community policing officers, providing the salary and benefits for officer and deputy hires for three years. President Obama announced in February that preference for this year’s COPS and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants would be given to communities that recruit and hire post-9/11 veterans to serve as police officers and firefighters.

Along with the pledge to hire military veterans, grantees for the COPS 2012 Hiring Program were selected based on fiscal need and local crime rates. Also factored in was each agency’s strategy to address specific problems such as increased homicide rates and gun violence.

Posted on Monday, June 25th, 2012
Under: Obama presidency, Public safety, veterans | No Comments »

Police chiefs laud those who banned ‘open carry’

The California Police Chiefs Association last night honored two men largely responsible for the new law banning “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places.

During a banquet at their 35th Annual Training Symposium in Sacramento, the chiefs gave their most prestigious award – the Joe Molloy Award – to Emeryville Police Chief Ken James.

“Chief James has served the association as the chair of our Firearms Committee for many years and had tirelessly advocated on our behalf on all of the firearms legislation that has been introduced,” CPCA President and Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard said.

“Additionally, Chief James fought successfully – against great odds – last year to have Cal Chiefs ‘Open Carry’ bill, AB 144, get to the governor’s desk and be signed into law. He led this year’s fight not only on behalf of our members, but on behalf of public safety and the safety of those in our communities. His tenacity on this issue is what enabled the bill to pass. Through it all he has steadfastly stood for what is best for the safety of our communities.”

Named for the late Chief Joe Molloy of Anaheim, the award goes to one who embodies professionalism, leadership, energy, and commitment to the association’s mission.

The chiefs also honored Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, for carrying AB 144. “Getting legislation like this introduced and passed is critical for the safety of our communities and we appreciate Assemblymember Portantino’s leadership,” Maggard said.

Portantino said the recognition means a lot to him, as someone with many relatives in law enforcement.

“I know and respect the dedicated men and women in uniform and the work they do to keep our communities safe and it is a tremendous honor to receive this recognition,” he said. “I have been blessed to have worked closely with the Police Chiefs during my time in office most recently on the bill to ban the open carry of unloaded handguns. California is a safer place because the governor signed our collaborative effort into law.”

AB 144, which took effect Jan. 1, made it illegal to carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street; law enforcement personnel are exempt as are hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances. Supporters had said open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers checking to ensure the guns aren’t loaded, in accordance with state law.

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law.

Some activists reacted to AB 144’s implementation by organizing public events in which they carried unloaded shotguns or rifles rather than handguns. Portantino now is carrying AB 1527, which would prohibit this as well; the CPCA supports this, too.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Under: Anthony Portantino, Assembly, gun control, Public safety | 22 Comments »

Judge won’t issue TRO against Oakland Police

A federal judge yesterday denied civil liberties groups’ and activists’ request for a temporary restraining order to keep Oakland police from using excessive force in violation of their own crowd-control policies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the National Lawyers Guild had sued the Oakland Police Department on Monday on behalf of Timothy Scott Campbell, a videographer who was shot with a bean bag projectile while filming police presence during Occupy Oakland on the night of November 2-3, 2011, and other demonstrators who say they were subjected to excessive force during recent protests.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg directed the parties to file briefs before appearing at a Nov. 30 hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued.

But in his ruling Wednesday, Seeborg said issuing a temporary restraining order now would require him to supervise and oversee the Oakland police’s compliance pending further hearings, and even if everything the plaintiffs claim in their lawsuit is true, they haven’t satisfied the legal standards “for such an expansive and unfettered order.”

“To justify an order generally requiring Oakland to comply with its Crowd Control Policy, plaintiffs must show that such ‘systemwide relief’ is necessary to prevent defendants from concertedly violating the protesters’ constitutional rights,” the judge wrote. “Sporadic or isolated violations of individual protesters’ rights are insufficient to support broad injunctive relief against an entire agency.”

Seeborg wrote that Occupy Oakland protests have continued for days on end without any alleged unconstitutional interference from local authorities. “By plaintiffs’ account, actionable conduct has occurred on no more than two to three occasions, spanning a number of hours, in over a month of almost continual demonstrations taking place across Oakland. Thus, plaintiffs’ request must fail on its own terms.”

The plaintiffs also failed to show a likelihood of immediate, irreparable harm “because the Occupy Oakland protests have continued for over a month with relatively limited confrontations,” the judge wrote.

“Both parties maintain compelling interests,” he acknowledged. “Plaintiffs, of course, seek to protect and exercise their First and Fourth Amendment rights in ways that implicate the public interest. The defendants, on the other hand, have indisputably accommodated the majority of the demonstrations, and seek to protect the safety and property of other Oakland residents.”

ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said she and her clients “are disappointed” by Seeborg’s denial of a temporary restraining order. “OPD is taking the position that it has not violated the crowd control policy at all, and the judge basically said in his order denying the TRO that the evidence was too anecdotal,” she said.

The plaintiffs disagree with that, Lye said, but whether anecdotal or not, Oakland police have acted in ways that not only injured protestors but also has made others afraid to protest, thus chilling their exercise of First Amdendment rights. “We’re doing our best to ensure OPD does not continue to trample on protesters’ rights.”

Posted on Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Under: Civil liberties, Oakland, Public safety | 3 Comments »

Study: Use red-light cameras for safety, not cash

Outsourcing traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors can spell trouble for municipalities, according to a new report from a consumer watchdog group.

The report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) finds that about half the states have enabled use of automated traffic cameras, letting local governments contract with private companies to install the equipment and issue citations. But citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts, the report says.

Engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running, the report says, but such solutions often get short shrift from ticket revenue-hungry contractors and municipalities.

“Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” CALPIRG Legislative Director Pedro Morillas said. “Too often, local governments are taken for a ride by red-light camera vendors overly focused on their bottom line instead of public safety.”

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, authored a bill this year that would’ve reformed the use of traffic cameras by requiring local governments to post signs near where the cameras are installed; develop uniform guidelines for screening and issuing tickets from the cameras; make formal fact-findings to justify future installations; to ignore revenue, beyond the system’s own costs, when considering whether to install such systems; and so on.

SB 29 had overwhelming bipartisan support, approved by the Assembly on a 70-4 vote and by the state Senate on a 38-0 vote. Yet Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill this month, writing that installation and maintenance of such camera systems “is something that can and should be overseen by local elected officials” without state interference.

But CALPIRG’s report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs focus on improving road safety, not ticket revenue. It says contracts between local governments should carefully compare cameras with alternatives, and their contracts with vendors should be scrutinized for conflicts of interest or any direct or indirect incentives for vendors based on the volume of tickets issued or fines collected. Public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions must be retained, the report says, and the contract process should be completely transparent and open, including public participation and information about finding online data on automated ticketing for each intersection.

“We’ve already run into controversy over the use of red-light cameras here in California,” Morillas said. “We need to learn from past mistakes to keep our roadways from becoming ATMs for private companies.”

Posted on Thursday, October 27th, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Jerry Brown, Joe Simitian, Public safety, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

RAND Corp. retracts pot dispensary crime study

The RAND Corporation today retracted the study it had released last month questioning the long-held law enforcement assertion that medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to neighborhood crime.

The study of 600 marijuana dispensaries – some of which shut down, some of which stayed open – over a three-week period in 2010 had indicated crime actually rises in surrounding neighborhoods when dispensaries close. “Overall crime increased almost 60 percent in the blocks surrounding closed clinics in the ten days following their closing,” the report had said.

It was immediately touted by medical marijuana advocates from coast to coast as evidence that police complaints of criminal activity at or near dispensaries were bogus. Law enforcement replied the study was too small a sample over too short a time.

RAND announced Monday that questions raised after the study’s publication prompted the prominent think tank “to undertake an unusual post-publication internal review of the study,” its press release said. “That review determined the crime data used in the analysis are insufficient to answer the questions targeted by the study.”

In fact, RAND said, the big problem with the study was that the data described as covering the city of Los Angeles and surrounding areas did not include crime data reported by the Los Angeles Police Department. RAND researchers will conduct a new analysis after gathering adequate crime data, a process that could take many more weeks.

“This was a rare failure of our peer review system,” said Debra Knopman, vice president of the RAND Infrastructure, Safety and Environment division. “We take our commitment to quality and objectivity seriously so we have retracted the study in order to correct it.”

We’ll have a full story on this later today: I’ll be talking to the RAND folks in about an hour, and have reached out to law enforcement and medical-marijuana advocates for comment.

UPDATE @ 3:10 P.M.: Click here to read the full story.

Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2011
Under: marijuana, Public safety | 5 Comments »

Death penalty abolition measure cleared by AG

The state Attorney General’s office has cleared for petition circulation a proposed ballot initiative that would abolish California’s death penalty, replacing it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Here’s the AG’s title and summary, released yesterday:

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. Requires persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them. Creates $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net savings to the state and counties that could amount to the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis due to the elimination of the death penalty. One-time state costs totaling $100 million from 2012-13 through 2015-16 to provide funding to local law enforcement agencies. (11-0035.)

The proponents have until March 19 to gather the valid signatures of at least 504,760 registered California voters in order to put this initiative on the November 2012 ballot.

This is the measure that popped up after state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, withdrew her similar bill in August, saying she couldn’t find the legislative votes to move it forward.

The California Taxpayers for Justice committee backing this “Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement (SAFE) for California Act” will roll out its petition signature gathering drive next week with press conferences Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego featuring “law enforcement leaders, murder victim family members, exonerated persons and notable campaign supporters.”

Among those speaking Tuesday in San Francisco will be 8th District Supervisor Scott Weiner; Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin State Prison and now Death Penalty Focus’s executive director and this initiative’s proponent; Maurice Caldwell, released in March after serving 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit; Deldelp Medina, whose aunt was murdered by her first cousin; and Lorrain Taylor of Oakland, founder of 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence and mother of twins Albade and Obadiah who were gunned down in 2000 at age 22 in a still-unsolved case.

And speakers in San Jose on Thursday will include SAFE California statewide campaign manager Natasha Minsker, who directs the ACLU of Northern California’s death penalty policy; retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell; John Starbuck, both the grandson and grandfather of murder victims, in separate cases; retired police officer Steven Fajardo; and Mary-Kay Raftery of San Jose, mother of a murdered law enforcement officer.

Hancock’s bill had been opposed by groups including Crime Victims United of California and the California District Attorneys Association; they and others almost certainly will oppose this proposed initiative, too.

A Field Poll released late last month found 68 percent of voters favor retaining the death penalty for serious crimes, 27 percent favor abolishing it, and 5 percent have no opinion. However, the poll also found more voters now prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole over the death penalty for someone convicted of first degree murder by a 48 percent to 40 percent margin. The poll had a 3.2-percentage-point margin of error.

Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011
Under: ballot measures, Public safety, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Civil libertarians blast two of Brown’s vetoes

Civil libertarians are hopping mad over Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes of two bills Sunday: one that would’ve required police to get a warrant before searching mobile devices of arrestees, and another that would’ve limited the shackling of pregnant women inmates.

The search-warrant bill, SB 914 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, was supported by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Coalition and the California Newspaper Publishers Association (of which, in the interests of full disclosure, my employer is a member). The bill would have limited searches of mobile devices to cases in which an officer has probable cause to believe a suspect’s device contains evidence of a crime; it would’ve allowed for exceptions in emergency circumstances.

“This measure would overturn a California Supreme Court decision that held that police officers can lawfully search the cell phones of people they arrest,” Brown – who served four years as attorney general, the state’s “top cop” – wrote in his veto message. “The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections.”

But ACLU of Northern California attorney Linda Lye said today that the courts and Brown aren’t keeping up with the technological times.

“No one would think that it’s okay for police to search a person’s financial documents, photo albums, address books, or the entire contents of their laptop without a warrant,” Lye said. “But mobile phones can hold all that information and more. We deserve the same privacy protection for our digital lives as we have offline.”

Leno said the bill “would have reinforced critical privacy protections in California law. In a rare showing of consensus, legislators and editorial boards from vastly different parts of the state and political spectrum have expressed support for this bill. Together with business owners, journalists and civil rights advocates, they believe privacy is not a partisan issue. It’s good public policy.”

Brown also vetoed AB 568 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which would’ve created statewide standards for how pregnant women in correctional facilities are restrained; the Assembly and state Senate both passed the bill unanimously. State law already bars use of shackles during labor unless deemed necessary, but the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have supported efforts to limit shackling during pregnancy due to the health risks it creates.

Dr. Phillip Diamond of Chula Vista, chair of ACOG’s ninth district, said the veto was disheartening.

“It is clear the law prohibiting shackling during labor does not go far enough,” he said. “There are many other circumstances where restraints impede the ability of the physician to provide timely and critical care, including for life-threatening conditions. Failure to sign not only fails women and the pregnancies, but leaves the state vulnerable to lawsuits for cruel and unusual punishment.”

Karen Shain, policy director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said her organization has accounts of pregnant women falling and endangering their pregnancies due to the excessive use of shackles. “The standards created by AB 568 would have ensured pregnant women are restrained safely. These standards are sorely needed.”

Brown wrote in his veto message that he had been inclined to sign AB 568 at first blush “because it certainly seems inappropriate to shackle a pregnant inmate unless absolutely necessary.”

“However, the language of this measure goes to far, prohibiting not only shackling but also the use of handcuffs or restraints of any kind except under ill-defined circumstances,” the governor wrote. “Let’s be clear. Inmates, whether pregnant or not, need to be transported in a manner that is safe for them and others. The restrictive criteria set forth in this bill go beyond what is necessary to protect the health and dignity of pregnant inmates and will only serve to sow confusion and invite lawsuits.”

The bill’s advocates said they’d met repeatedly with law enforcement officials in an effort to accommodate their demands, but the California State Sheriffs’ Association voiced concerns only after the bill had reached Brown’s desk, too late for further amendments.

“The CSSA was concerned that officers could not use handcuffs under AB 568, but it explicitly states that handcuffs in front are permissible if needed for safety and security reasons,” the ACLU of Northern California’s Alicia Walters said. “Last session law enforcement was concerned that officers could not use their discretion, so this year we drafted language to ensure they could put their hours of training to use under some much-needed standards.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Civil liberties, Jerry Brown, Mark Leno, Nancy Skinner, Public safety | 2 Comments »

Brown pleases gun advocates and foes

As with many other bills Gov. Jerry Brown handled this session, he seemed to split the baby Sunday when deciding on bills dealing with how, where and when firearms can be carried in California, and by whom.

As I reported here earlier today, Brown signed AB 144, banning the “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places – a bill supported by gun-control groups and law enforcement by opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he also signed SB 610 to streamline, speed and cheapen the process to seek a permit to carry a concealed handgun, something gun-rights advocates supported.

Brown also signed a bill letting the state Justice Department use an existing fee to fund its program tracking and seizing firearms from people who aren’t legally allowed to have them, and a bill requiring the state to preserve buyer information on rifles and shotguns sold or transferred in the state, just as it already does for handguns – both opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he pleased those same advocates by vetoing a bill on handgun ammunition sales, saying it’s something the courts should work out first.

AB 144, by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, makes it a misdemeanor to openly carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Law enforcement personnel are exempt as are security guards, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under certain conditions.

“The right to Open Carry has been legal in the State of California since its inception, and there has never been a single case of an Open Carry advocate ever committing a violent crime in the Golden State’s entire 160-year history,” said Responsible Citizens of California President Adnan Shahab of Fremont, adding his group will work with others to challenge the new law in court. “Since no problem has ever existed that needs to be addressed or fixed, there was no reason for AB 144 in the first place.”

But California Police Chiefs Association President David Maggard Jr. said today that open carry was “a threat to the safety of the communities we police and the safety of our officers. The Governor’s leadership in signing this legislation will help assure that felons and gang members cannot openly carry an unloaded gun with impunity, all the while carrying the ammunitions for the weapon on their person, because with open carry, officers were prohibited from conducting any further investigation to determine if the individual is legally in possession of the weapon.”

SB 610 by state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, requires that a person need not pay for handgun training before the county sheriff has decided whether that person has good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon. If the sheriff finds no good cause, the bill requires that he or she inform the person why. One way or the other, the sheriff must give notice within 90 days of the application or 30 days after receiving the applicant’s criminal background check from the Justice Department, whichever is later.

The bill was supported by the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the National Rifle Association.

Lots more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, October 10th, 2011
Under: Anthony Portantino, Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Mark Leno, Public safety | 7 Comments »

Governor signs Swanson’s human trafficking bills

California taxpayers can choose to contribute to the state’s new Child Victims of Human Trafficking Fund which gives money to community-based organizations, under an East Bay lawmaker’s bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Californians already can make contributions to a variety of organizations listed on their personal income tax forms; AB 764 by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, adds to that list community-based organizations that protect sexually exploited minors.

“Countless organizations throughout the state provide vital support services to child victims of sexual exploitation,” Swanson said in a news release. “Our state lacks a consistent process through which appropriate victim services can be provided to thousands of children who are struggling out on the street. With the Governor’s signature on this bill, our state can begin plucking these young girls from the eye of a hurricane and plant them in safe environments where they can be what they are: children.”

AB 764 enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support: The Assembly approved it on a 74-2 vote in June; the state Senate approved it 37-1 in August; and the Assembly voted 79-0 in August to concur in the state Senate’s amendments.

Brown also on Tuesday signed Swanson’s AB 90, which tightens state law’s language on criminal profiteering in child prostitution. Federal law clearly states prosecutors need not prove force or coercion when a trafficking victim is younger than 18, but state law was vague, requiring a showing of force even as it said it intended to conform with federal law. AB 90 changes the state’s standard of proof to require only a showing that the defendant “caused, induced, encouraged or persuaded the victim,” and also lets prosecutors implement already-existing fines and forfeiture provisions. The Assembly and state Senate approved this bill on unanimous votes.

Swanson has authored several other bills in recent years dealing with human trafficking. Most recently, Brown in June signed into law Swanson’s AB 12, which boosted fines against “johns” who pay for sex with minors and required that the money be directed to groups providing therapy, housing, shelter, and education to child victims of sex trafficking.

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Public safety, Sandre Swanson | 2 Comments »