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Crime

Local Lawmakers Pushing for Bail Reform to “Fix Broken System”

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Experts, advocates and lawmakers gathered on Tuesday to discuss changes to California’s bail system, which often requires defendants to pay a fee upfront in order to be released while their case is pending. 

 

“In my view, the current system is broken,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who led the discussion at the Elihu Harris State Building in Oakland.

 

“The purpose of bail was to provide a path for an individual to go back to their life while they await trial with the guarantee they would return for their court date. It’s not happening that way today,” he said.

 

Bonta said that now, those who have the money can be released pretrial no matter how dangerous they may be, while those who can’t afford to pay bail may sit in jail for something as minor as a traffic ticket.

 

“The majority of people in California jails are unsentenced. Ninety percent of people retained pretrial are there because they cannot make bail,” said panelist Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

 

Panelists attributed this to California’s cash bail system, which they said evaluates defendants on their ability to pay, rather than the danger they pose to society or whether they are willing appear at court.

 

Bonta and other speakers stressed how this can cause poor people to lose their jobs or housing if they cannot pay for their release, and that the inability to post bail disproportionately affects communities of color.

 

Some panelists suggested shifting away from a cash bail system and towards free trial services and “risk-assessments,” through which officials use data and evidence to determine whether a person should be released when making decisions about pretrial populations.

 

According to panelist and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, nearly 29 other jurisdictions have developed risk-assessment models.

 

Also on the panel was Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), who previously presented bail reform legislation that passed the Senate but died in the Assembly.

 

Hancock emphasized that over a billion dollars have been invested in the state’s jail system in the last six years, and advocated for reinvesting the money that could be saved by reforming the bail system into education and other rehabilitation programs.

 

“Money bail is an ineffective way to promote public safety. The amount of money someone has bears no relation to the risk they pose,” Norris said. “Bail and pretrial is really the widest part of the funnel, and if we want to take on mass incarceration this is where we should start.”

 

Bonta plans to introduce this legislation at the start of the next session in December.

 

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City Government

City Council Passes Reid’s Gun Violence Resolution

Officially declaring gun violence a public health crisis within the City of Oakland, the resolution endorses the call from many community-based organizations for Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to direct an equitable amount of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into violence prevention resources.   

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stop gun violence sign photo courtesy chip vincent via unsplash

Reacting to Oakland’s 100th homicide of the year, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt Councilmember Treva Reid’s gun violence resolution.

Officially declaring gun violence a public health crisis within the City of Oakland, the resolution endorses the call from many community-based organizations for Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to direct an equitable amount of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into violence prevention resources.

“We are in a state of emergency. We can no longer continue to report the lives lost of our loved ones without intentionally working to implement immediate and strategic solutions to stop the onslaught of violence that we are experiencing,” said Reid.

By officially declaring gun violence a public health crisis and calling for additional funding from the county, Reid says Oakland can achieve the following:

  • Deeper investments for violence prevention programs, like Ceasefire and Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO), as well as community healing organizations
  • Funds for culturally responsive mental health services
  • Additional community clinics and providers to support holistic delivery of health services
  • Rental support, down payment assistance, homeownership retention, and affordable housing development
  • Access to life coaching, service connectors, living wage jobs and grants and technical assistance for Black business to enhance economic self sufficiency
  • Expanded work force development and business assistance resources

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Business

Mayor London Breed Announces Organized Retail Crime Initiative

Mayor London N. Breed unveiled details from San Francisco’s Organized Retail Crime Initiative, a new initiative led by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in partnership with local retailers and regional law enforcement agencies.

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Retail/ Photo Credit: Artificial Photography via Unsplash

Mayor London N. Breed unveiled details from San Francisco’s Organized Retail Crime Initiative, a new initiative led by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in partnership with local retailers and regional law enforcement agencies. The focus of the plan, announced on September 22, is to increase reporting, investigating, and solving of retail theft cases and the upstream criminal enterprises that fuel them.

The Plan has three main elements:

  • Expanding and reallocating police investigative resources
    • Increasing the SFPD Organized Retail Crime Unit from two to five investigators and adding one dedicated lieutenant to better investigate crimes locally and to work regionally with the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force
  • Strategic restructuring of publicly and privately funded deployments
    • Dedicating SFPD personnel to ensure tightly coordinated field operations and communications with retail partners
    • Tripling the SFPD Community Ambassador program, which employs retired SFPD officers to patrol and serve as deterrence, and expanding geographic area served
    • Managing privately funded deployment of 10B officers to focus on deterrence
  • Public-private partnerships aimed at reporting, investigating and solving cases
    • Increase reporting of crimes through expansion of Teleserve Unit, which was implemented during COVID-19 pandemic to take reports without in-person contact

     “Retail theft and commercial burglaries are not victimless crimes,” said Breed. “They hurt working families due to reduced work hours, shuttered stores and lost jobs. They hurt customers and seniors who are losing convenient access to prescription medications and vaccinations because of pharmacy closures. 

     “They hurt neighborhoods suffering from fewer local retailers and more empty storefronts. The strategy we’re outlining today is an all-hands-on-deck approach that brings the full partnership of state and local law enforcement and retailers to bear to aggressively pursue, investigate and deter organized retail crime in San Francisco.”

“Mayor Breed directed us to develop a plan to maximize the impact of SFPD’s resources by strengthening our partnerships with retailers and law enforcement agencies, and leveraging our successes from such previously announced strategies as our Mid-Market Vibrancy and Safety Plan and Tourism Deployment Plan,” said Chief Bill Scott. “The result is our Organized Retail Crime Initiative, and we are incredibly grateful for the participation of local retailers whose partnerships are making this endeavor truly groundbreaking. This collaborative approach reflects the full promise of community policing — not solely to support our City’s economic recovery, but to better protect public safety that is too often endangered by retail theft crews and the sophisticated criminal enterprises funding them.”

Expanding and reallocating police and investigative resources

The initiative will expand SFPD’s Organized Retail Crime Unit from two to five full-duty sworn investigators under the command of a dedicated lieutenant. In addition to cases they investigate within their citywide purview, unit members will serve as full partners to the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force, which Governor Gavin Newsom reauthorized on July 21, 2021.

Prior to its reauthorization after sunsetting earlier this year, CHP’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force worked in close partnership with the San Francisco Police Department in operations that recovered millions of dollars in stolen merchandise and cash from criminal enterprises engaged in retail theft activities. One of those coordinated operations led to an $8 million seizure in partnership with the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 30, 2020, in which multiple law enforcement agencies recovered merchandise stolen from San Francisco Bay Area retailers.

Strategic restructuring of privately funded deployments, expanded patrols

The initiative calls for reallocating resources to SFPD’s Field Operations Bureau to focus on deterrence. This will include a newly assigned lieutenant to coordinate privately funded “10B” officers and a sergeant who will function as a dedicated retail theft coordinator. Initial allocations of police officers’ 10B time are expected to average more than 3,800 hours per two-week pay period, spanning at least 34 retail locations citywide. Additionally, SFPD’s Community Ambassador program will be more than tripled in size — from 8 to fully 25 ambassadors — and expanded to cover new areas beyond Union Square (where it is currently focused), including Yerba Buena/Moscone Center, Lower Market/Embarcadero, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

SFPD’s Community Ambassadors are unarmed civilians who patrol in high-visibility SFPD Community Ambassador windbreakers. Utilizing their wealth of law enforcement experience, these ambassadors observe and report issues and problem-solve within their assigned area in partnership with community stakeholders. Initially launched in November 2020 with eight retired SFPD officers as part of the Holiday Season “Safe Shopper” program, SFPD ambassadors have been instrumental in helping to solve several crimes to date, providing critical information that led to the arrest of suspects involved in several organized retail theft and robbery incidents.

Public-private partnerships aimed at reporting, investigating and solving cases

The San Francisco Police Department is dramatically expanding incident reporting capabilities for participating retailers under the Organized Retail Crime Initiative — initially through SFPD’s Teleserve Unit.

SFPD first implemented its Teleserve Unit last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate the intake of incident reports without the risks of in-person contacts. The system was upgraded in August 2021 to allow for reports of retail thefts to be prepared over the phone, a time- and cost-saving technique designed to encourage retailers to maximize their reporting of theft incidents. A planned upgrade to SFPD’s online reporting system from LexisNexis Coplogic Solutions will allow participating retailers to more easily report thefts via an online portal.

If successful in enabling retailers to maximize their reporting of retail crimes, a potentially dramatic increase in larceny and commercial burglary crime rates should be expected. However, more robust reporting and data aggregation will more effectively target the San Francisco Police Department’s deployment of police resources, while enabling SFPD investigators to more fully inform partner agencies within the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force. By better facilitating information from incidents together with accompanying evidence, the initiative can help to solve retail theft cases and more effectively target the upstream criminal enterprises fueling them.

 

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Community

Supporters, Opponents Clash Over Bill That Would Decriminalize Loitering for Prostitution

Vanessa Russell, founder of the Bay Area’s Love Never Fails, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration, education, and protection of those involved or at risk of becoming involved in domestic human trafficking, said SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, is “deeply disturbing.”

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Stock image of woman in bed with money

Stephany Powell, an advocate for sex crime victims and survivors, hopes Gov. Gavin Newsom will veto Senate Bill (SB) 357.

The legislation proposes ending punishment for people “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Powell, who is director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), and other advocates say, if the bill is signed into law, it would provide increased “open-air” activities in disadvantaged communities.

“I’m just thinking about the people living in the communities that would have to deal with (prostitution),” said Powell, a former city of Los Angeles law enforcement officer. “They (the lawmakers) need to come up with something else because it’s a Band-Aid approach to the issue.  People who don’t have a full understanding of how this can be problematic. I hope it’s vetoed.”

NCOSE, based in Wash., D.C., is dedicated to creating an environment free from sexual abuse and exploitation, through policy, legal, corporate advocacy, education, and public mobilization. Powell joined the organization in 2020.

The author of SB 357, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) presents a counterargument. Wiener says the bill protects sex-trafficked women from the police who use loitering laws to discriminate against minorities, including Black, Latino, trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Existing law prohibits soliciting or engaging in an act of prostitution. It also prohibits loitering in a public place “with the intent to commit prostitution, as defined, or directing, supervising, recruiting, or aiding a person who is loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Under the existing law, a violation of any of these provisions is a misdemeanor. SB 357 would decriminalize them.

California Penal Code 653.22 allows police to arrest someone for intending to solicit or engage in prostitution even if the person never actually engages in the act. The offense is commonly referred to as “loitering to commit prostitution” or “loitering for prostitution.”

Powell said this law is effective. Police officers do not actually have to catch someone engaged in prostitution before apprehending them she says, adding that the police “can arrest the sex buyer and the person selling the service.”

Although Powell says it is easy for innocent people to find themselves under suspicion because of the latitude police officers have under current law, she insists, based on knowledge from prosecutors and D.A. offices’ investigations of sex trafficking and underage prostitution, it would not be a significant problem.

“Say if I am the vice cop out there. I see a girl but don’t know if she’s 16 or 19. But remember: if she is under the age of 18, she is automatically considered to be a victim of human trafficking,” Powell said. “The only reason why I would be able to stop her is because of P.C. 653.22. So, let’s say SB 357 becomes legal. Well then, what am I stopping her for? Because, God help me, if she’s 21. I’m going to have some legal problems.”

The governor is getting increased pressure from individuals for and against SB 357, including sex worker advocates across California.

Sex-trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocates held a news conference at the California State Capitol to protest SB 357.

Vanessa Russell, founder of the Bay Area’s Love Never Fails, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration, education, and protection of those involved or at risk of becoming involved in domestic human trafficking, said SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, is “deeply disturbing.”

“As a direct service provider, I think it’s important to call out a few things, unfortunately. The false narrative that is present and embodied in SB 357,” said Russell. “This is a bill that is preying on the current anti-sentiment of communities of color. This is not a partisan issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue that all of us need to engage on to show (sex trafficking) survivors they can be safe.”

Four survivors of sex trafficking spoke outside the state capitol to express their displeasure with the bill. They said police officers use loitering laws to nab solicitors and traffickers — as well as to save trafficked women and men from their brutal traffickers.

The survivors believe that without a loitering law, exploitation of these vulnerable women is only going to increase.

“This piece of legislation only protects the buyer and the trafficker,” said survivor Marjorie Saylor, who also runs a nonprofit for former sex-trafficked women exiting prostitution. “And these are traffickers that send his girls into your high schools to recruit your sons and daughters.”

Saylor, a Black woman, said that it was a police officer that helped her escape a sex trafficker.

“I was rescued by law enforcement, and I feel that it is necessary that we work and partner with law enforcement to engage these men, women, boys, and girls on the streets. They need a reason to go in and say someone is being exploited.”

The bill authorizes a person convicted of a violation of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution to petition the court for the dismissal and sealing of their case, and resentencing.

The U.S. Department of State has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the country each year. The figure does not include victims who are trafficked within the United States each year.

New York City is currently dealing with an open-air sex market that vice authorities are turning a blind eye to due to the Brooklyn District Attorney shifting from prosecuting prostitution cases. Brooklyn’s D.A. has moved to vacate 262 warrants related to the sex trade.

Powell said actions such as these empower pimps and sex traffickers.

“This is what it looks like if prostitution is legal,” Powell said of New York City’s approach to the world’s oldest profession.

California – a populous border state with a significant immigrant population, the State’s Department of Justice stated – is one of the nation’s top destination states for trafficking human beings.

After SB 357 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee in March by a vote of 4-1, Fatima Shabazz of Fatima Speaks, and co-lead of the Policy Committee for the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition stated, “this is the first step in repealing a Jim Crow law that criminalizes Black and trans people in public spaces.”

“Sex workers are workers like anyone else, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Wiener, presenting his case for repealing what he views as a discriminatory law.

“Our criminal justice system criminalizes people – particularly Black, Brown and LGTBQ people – for simply existing and going about their lives. Laws like this one do nothing to make people safer or stop sex trafficking. Instead, they criminalize members of our community who are simply going about their lives. We need to support sex workers instead of criminalizing them.”

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