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Sen. Nancy Skinner Introduces Reforms to Reduce Sentences of Certain Non-Violent Offenses

“Serving on the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code gave me the opportunity to engage with experts and advocates to identify common sense proposals for criminal justice reform.” Skinner said. “SB 81 sends a clear message to our courts: Sentence enhancements should be used judiciously, and only when the enhancement is necessary to protect the public. And SB 82 will help ensure that in the case of theft, the punishment meets the crime.”

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State Sen. Nancy Skinner

East Bay State Sen. Nancy Skinner introduced two criminal justice reform bills this week, designed to reduce sentences for several categories of non-violent felonies.

    Skinner’s two bills were introduced in response to a new report from the state’s Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code. The committee, of which Skinner is a member, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to comprehensively examine California’s Penal Code and issue recommendations for reforming it.

   The first bill, SB 81, would reform the state’s use of sentencing enhancements, which add years to prison sentences,but, based on widespread research, fail to improve public safety. SB 81 would create a set of guidelines for courts so that sentence enhancements would no longer be applied to nonviolent offenses and certain other cases unless a judge determines that the enhancements are necessary to protect public safety. 

   The other bill, SB 82, would update a 150-year-old statute that has allowed prosecutors to elevate a petty theft charge into felony robbery. SB 82 would establish a clear distinction between theft and robbery for cases when no deadly weapon was used and no one was seriously injured. 

   “Serving on the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code gave me the opportunity to engage with experts and advocates to identify common sense proposals for criminal justice reform.” Skinner said. “SB 81 sends a clear message to our courts: Sentence enhancements should be used judiciously, and only when the enhancement is necessary to protect the public. And SB 82 will help ensure that in the case of theft, the punishment meets the crime.”

  The vast majority of people in California prisons — 80% — are serving a sentence term that includes extra time added on by a sentencing enhancement. In some cases, the amount of prison time added due to sentencing enhancements is five to 10 years or more — longer than the term for the underlying conviction. The committee’s report also noted that “enhancements are applied disproportionately against people of color and people suffering from mental illness.”

   Research reviewed by the Penal Code Revision Committee showed no evidence that the proliferation of sentencing enhancements in California has made the state safer.

 

Bay Area

Vallejo Police Chief Issues Statement After Chauvin Verdict

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.”

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“Today, justice was appropriately served. Police officers should be guardians of the communities we are sworn to protect and serve. Our task is to embrace the principle of safety with respect — respect for human dignity, respect for the sanctity of life, and respect for what our communities are demanding of us.

“As a law enforcement executive, I acknowledge it is my obligation to lead with purpose and urgency. Policy change isn’t enough. Creating meaningful cultural change is imperative.

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.

“Those of us entrusted with the responsibility of law enforcement must build trust where we have it, restore trust where we’ve lost it, and earn trust where it never existed. These responsibilities should only be entrusted to those who have a record of successful accomplishments consistent with these values.

“This is what our citizens and communities want, this is what they deserve, and this is what we must deliver.”

Vallejo Chief of Police Shawny Williams

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Community

A Diverse Jury Delivers Justice for George Floyd

Right up to when the verdict was read the anxiety level was so high, people all over the country were fearful. This case was really the People vs. the Cops. Leave it to diversity.

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Mural in Oakland, Calif. June 7, 2020 Photo Credit: Christy Price

All-white jury? There’s no more feared phrase among civil rights lawyers. But that’s not what Minnesota gave us in the Derek Chauvin trial. The jury that decided the fate of the white former police officer who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck was more  diverse than the Minnesota county where the trial was held.  And that means the odds of getting justice were probably a lot higher than anyone could have imagined. 

Right up to when the verdict was read the anxiety level was so high, people all over the country were fearful. This case was really the People vs. the Cops. Leave it to diversity.

Minnesota’s Hennepin County has 1.3 million people, according to Census data from 2019. The racial breakdown is 74.2% are white, 13.8% black, 7.5% Asian, 7%  Latino, 3.3% biracial, 1.1% Native American. How much lower would your anxiety level be with a 12-member jury that had only nine white people?  Not much.

But again, praise diversity. The Chauvin jury included six whites — two male, four female. And there were four Black people (three of whom are male, plus a 60-year-old black woman). The remaining two jurors were multiracial. But now, what’s in their heads?

The questionnaires all the potential jurors filled out asked about policing, protests and criminal justice. Among the selected was a white man in his 20s, who was the only juror who said he had not seen the cell-phone video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The man, a chemist, said in his questionnaire, “I rely on facts and logic and what’s in front of me.”

To me that sounded like a guy who might want to see some evidence again. That indicated to me the potential for a long deliberation and not a quick one.

One of the Black jury members, in his 30s, said he had not seen the cell-phone video in its entirety. In his questionnaire he said he didn’t believe Chauvin “set out to murder anyone,” but noticed how three officers on the scene stood by and didn’t take action.

It seemed to reflect a balanced, open-minded jury that could deliberate on the truth.

The prosecution skillfully framed its case around the cell-phone video we have all seen, the 9:29-long video of Chauvin with a knee to the neck of Floyd. “You can believe your eyes,” said attorney Jerry Blackwell in the opening. In closing, his prosecuting partner, Steve Schleicher, said it again and added, “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.” 

In the end, the jurors did not allow themselves to be gaslit by the defense, who presented alternative facts as to how Floyd died. But jurors could see for themselves in that video:  Chauvin wasn’t demonstrating “reasonable” policing. 

The jury delivered guilty verdicts on all three complicated murder charges: second-degree unintentional murder; third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Trifecta. 

To think Chauvin wanted to plead to at least 10 years, but former U.S. Attorney General William Barr wouldn’t approve it because there was fear that 10 wouldn’t be seen as severe enough. Now Chauvin, whose bail was revoked and sent back into custody, could get up to 40 years.

A triumph for the people. And for diversity.  A system so biased toward the cops was beaten. It happens. 

Savor it peacefully and think of others who have come up empty-handed in their quest for justice. Let this be an energizing reminder, how alive justice can make us all feel.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. See his vlog at www.amok.com  Twitter @emilamok FB @emilguillermo.media

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Bay Area

What Oakland’s Homeless Audit Says About Evictions, Policing, and Fire

Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.

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A tent in Oakland that serves as a home for a resident, October 2, 2019 Photo Credit: Zack Haber

On April 14, Oakland’s City Auditor Courtney Ruby released an audit of the city’s homeless encampment management interventions and activities for the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-2020. The 95-page report includes data and estimations about interventions, populations, costs, and availability of services related to homeless people and their communities. 

Claiming that the city “lacked an effective strategy…and did not provide sufficient policy direction or adequate funding,” Ruby also included recommendations for better addressing homeless communities. Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.

Evictions and hygiene services

The audit’s data on evictions and hygiene services is limited to the 2018-19 fiscal year and the first eight months of the 2019-20 fiscal year, when the city suspended most homeless evictions and cleaning interventions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. During this timeframe, the city evicted 181 homeless communities. Of these evictions, 123, or about two-thirds of the total, were classified as “re-closures,” which the report defined as occurring “when homeless individuals return to a previously closed [homeless community].”  In the fiscal year 2018-19, about 60% of evictions were re-closures. From July 2019 through February 2020, this ratio increased, and about 77% of evictions were re-closures.

The audit reports 1,599 interventions classified as “hygiene and garbage services,” and defines such interventions as “providing portable toilets, hand-washing stations, regular garbage service, and/or traffic barriers.” For each of these services performed per homeless community, the audit counts one intervention. These interventions are lumped together and lack individual data, meaning that the audit did not report precise data on how often the city provided trash pick-up to homeless communities.

The audit reports that the city increased its hygiene and garbage interventions. From 2018-19, the city provided 797 such interventions, or about 66 per month. During the first eight months of 2019-2020, the city performed 802 such interventions, or about 100 per month. After March 2020, in response to COVID-19, the audit claims the city increased the number of homeless communities that receive hygiene interventions from 20 to 40, but the vast majority of homeless communities in Oakland still do not get hygiene and/or trash services with any regularity. The audit estimates that there are at least 140 homeless communities in Oakland but acknowledges “that this estimate may be conservative.”

Police response and costs

Data recorded in the audit shows police response to 911 calls in homeless communities was not timely. While over 99% of 911 calls were classified as “Priority 2,” which the audit claims “ideally should be responded to in 10 to 15 minutes,” data provided by OPD showed the median police response time to Priority 2 calls was two hours in 2018-19, while the mean response time was four hours. In 2019-20, response time slowed by about 50%, with the median response time being about three hours, while the mean response time was about six hours. Data OPD listed related to response time range show the department took over two days to respond to at least one 911 call in 2018-19 and over six days to respond to at least one other 911 call in 2019-20. Although OPD recorded 1,458 calls to homeless communities during the two years of the audit, the audit only analyzed 988 of these calls, claiming that “response data was incomplete” for 470 calls.

The audit records OPD using about $3.1 million in costs associated with homeless communities. But that $3.1 million does not include an accurate account of overtime pay. OPD only started recording overtime pay related to homeless communities in February 2020, just before the frequency of interventions, notably evictions, declined dramatically.

About $1.7 million, a slim majority of OPD’s recorded costs related to homeless communities, are recorded as labor costs that went to the three members of The Homeless Outreach Team. The Homeless Outreach Team consists of one sergeant and two officers who dedicate 100% of their time to homeless community work. 

    The Abandoned Auto Unit incurred over $800,000 in labor costs to provide support at moderate to large homeless community evictions. They were responsible for “traffic control and tagging and towing vehicles at [homeless communities] when necessary.”  About $600,000 went to labor costs incurred by Patrol staff responding to 911 calls.

Fire Department response and costs

The audit reports that The Oakland Fire Department responded to 988 fires in homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-20, which is more than one a day. The data recorded shows that the OFD response times for such fires were timely, arriving in just over seven minutes and 50 seconds to over 90% of calls. Such responses were slightly faster than responses to non-homeless community related calls, which, in 90% of cases, OFD responded to in about eight minutes and 10 seconds. OFD has recorded no injuries to firefighters fighting fires at homeless communities. One homeless resident died in 2020 as a direct result of a fire. The audit did not record fire-related injuries to homeless people or their lost possessions.

OFD-related costs accounted for an estimated $1.8 million in funds related to homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. About $676,000 went to “fire prevention labor,” which includes labor costs associated with fire hazard inspections, investigations related to fires, and removal of hazardous waste. Over $ million went to both labor and equipment costs related to “fire suppression.” Fire suppression costs include costs related to fighting fires and rescue activities. OFD costs related to homeless communities rose over 40% from 2018-19 to 2019-20 while total fires at homeless communities increased about 17% over these years.

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