Los Angeles County Sheriff, Robert Luna, speaks during a press conference at City Hall in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2023. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
While law enforcement and officials are preparing for Los Angeles Superior Court to institute a permanent zero-bail system Oct. 1, some officials said they are worried it will worsen crime in the community.
The county’s court system is required by California law to set uniform county bail schedules, according to the court’s executive officer and clerk David Slayton, who testified before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors about the new schedule Sept. 26.
This year, the court decided to reinstitute the zero-bail policy seen during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, with some adjustments. An evaluation of the county’s zero-bail pilot project in 2020 and implemented during the COVID-19 “showed promising results,” Mr. Slayton told county supervisors.
The zero-bail schedule (pdf
) will apply to low-level, non-violent, and non-serious offenses determined by the court.
“The ultimate finding was that zero-dollar [bail] did not increase failures to appear or re-arrest rates. In fact, they’ve remained at or below historic averages,” Mr. Slayton said.
Sentencing enhancements are addressed in the bail schedule, which include crimes committed for the benefit of a gang, the use of a weapon, recent prison terms, and re-arrests of those already out on bail for another crime.
County law enforcement will have three categories to choose from after a suspect is arrested—cite and release, book and release, or magistrate review, meaning the case should be reviewed by a magistrate judge before applying bail.
An exterior view of the Airport Branch Courthouse of the Los Angeles Superior Court at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2013. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
“Money bail remains for serious and violent offenses,” Mr. Slayton told the supervisors.
A magistrate will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Mr. Slayton. The review will consider criminal history, previous failures to appear, and appropriate non-financial release terms.
Examples of offenses that will require magistrate reviews are crimes involving firearms, sexual battery, violence against children or seniors, contact with a minor with the intent to commit a sexual offense, battery against an elderly or dependent adult, and persons arrested for a felony while on parole or community supervision, according to Mr. Slayton.
Law enforcement can also request a magistrate review if they feel those arrested are a risk to the public or victim or are a risk of fleeing the county, he said.
Law Enforcement Alarmed
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said local communities have not been shy about telling law enforcement of their concerns about the bail changes.
“When we first heard this, it was alarming to us in law enforcement,” Mr. Luna told supervisors during the meeting. “It is a significant change.”
Mr. Luna said he has spoken to crime victims, city representatives, business owners, and community members about the changes.
“What they have addressed is that public safety and lowering crime is their absolute No. 1 concern,” he said. “I think we need a balance and a fair system that incorporates all stakeholders.”
Victims are additionally concerned about the lack of consequences for criminals, Luna added.
“When they see or hear about people being released immediately after an arrest, it negatively impacts their confidence in our criminal justice system,” he said. “If your child was poisoned by fentanyl and you found out someone was caught selling it in your neighborhood and they’re released a few hours later without bail, you might question if the system is fair or not.”
The same might be felt by victims of the county’s organized retail theft, which has recently surged, Mr. Luna said.
“If you’re the victim of organized retail theft, and you know that even if the individuals who stole from your businesses are caught, they will not be held or even required to post bail, you also are going to question the system and probably get very angry at a lot of us sitting in this room because they think that we’re not holding people accountable,” he said.
About 20 percent of defendants released on zero bail are rearrested, according to Mr. Luna.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2021. (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)
District Attorney’s Office Asks Questions
Los Angeles County Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon Woo, representing District Attorney George Gascón, also had concerns about the crimes that qualified for zero-bail, even though Mr. Gascón has been a vocal proponent of bail reform and the elimination of cash bail.
Crimes such as selling drugs, retail theft, and residential burglary are considered serious and violent offenses in the state’s penal code.
“One offense that I do have particular concern with is residential burglary,” Ms. Woo told supervisors. “Under the statute, it is considered a serious offense. In the new revision, the court added not only residential burglary but a residential burglary with a person present. That, for us, is considered a hot-prowl burglary and that is a violent felony under the penal code. That is a significant concern for us, as well as many offenses that also have protective orders involved and stay-away orders.”
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said in a statement
Sept. 26 that law enforcement was averse to the list of “book and release” offenses, because the approach offers “little deterrence to those involved in a range of serious criminal offenses.”
“Our goals are safety, deterrence, and prevention—not punishment,” Mr. Moore said. “Historically, these goals have been achieved by the imposition of higher bail amounts.”
To achieve these goals, law enforcement’s primary focus should be to evaluate whether the suspect poses a serious threat to public safety, and not their ability to pay, Mr. Moore added.
The new bail schedule requires judges to evaluate the circumstances of an arrest, and the suspect’s past criminal history in evaluating ongoing risk to public safety and the safety of the victim.
“On a case-by-case basis, absent the existence of sufficient safeguards in the release of these individuals back into the community, we are asking the court to not release individuals who pose risks to community safety, including those with repeated instances of prior serious offenses,” the chief said in the statement.
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who recently announced he is running in the 2024 election for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said in September he believes the policy would lead to a rise in crime.
Former Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva (C) uses the Los Angeles Metro system in Los Angeles on April 19, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“The zero-bail schedule is a gift to repeat offenders,” Mr. Villanueva told The Epoch Times. “Neither the courts nor law enforcement have the capacity to track citations issued in different jurisdictions, leaving suspects to continue offending with impunity.”
The court’s backlog of pandemic-era felony cases is so large, it was unlikely any repeat offenders would be brought to justice before the statute of limitations expires on their cases, he added.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said during the Sept. 26 discussion she’s heard from constituents who feel unsafe.
“On a daily basis, my office fields calls and emails from constituents who share concerns about their safety. I hear the same things when I’m out in the community, and the bottom line is, residents don’t feel safe,” Ms. Barger said. “With the rise in retail crimes, and other crimes, I think the message that I’m looking for is, how are we going to make sure that criminals out there don’t feel there are no consequences to the actions they take?”
She cited an example.
“I talked to men and women within my unincorporated area about the frustrations they feel when they come in contact with someone they have to cite and release, and that individual laughs and says, ‘I’ll be back out before you even get the paperwork filed,’” Ms. Barger said. “And I have to say that with no consequences, that’s a problem. Crimes, serious or not, are not victimless.”
Other officials also commented this week about the impending start of the new schedule.
Minority Leader State Sen. Brian Jones (R-San Diego) expressed concern on social media Sept. 25.
“LA has a new arrest & release policy. For more dangerous crimes, suspects will be given conditions for their zero bail release,” he posted
on X, formerly Twitter. “One condition could be ‘prohibition against committing crimes.’ Genius! Telling criminals they are prohibited from committing crimes!”