By Michele Hanisee
The critical feature of an op/ed is that it is opinion and commentary rather than investigative journalism. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. In a recent foray, columnist Sal Rodriguez mixed “facts” in with personal attacks to argue that criminal justice “reforms” are working. Rodriguez first contended that crime is lower than in 2006 when the prison population was at its highest point. Of course, the alternate takeaway is that imprisoning repeat offenders for a lengthy period leads to the crime rate falling. As we covered in our last blog, the facts show that decreases in imprisonment based upon the criminal justice reforms” of AB 109 and Prop 47, have been followed by rising violent crime rates and rising property crime rates.
Rodriguez took umbrage with me for stating in a radio interview on the Doug McIntyre radio program that Prop 47 allows a thief to walk out of a store with a flat screen TV every day of the week with little chance of punishment beyond a notice to appear. Rodriguez labeling my factual statement to be “fear-mongering.” He then blamed law enforcement for not arresting repeat thieves and taking them to jail.
Here are some facts for Mr. Rodriguez. Police officers do not have legal authority to make an arrest for a misdemeanor theft not committed in their presence. It is not their choice, they are acting on laws passed by our legislature. If they are somehow able to witness a shoplifting in progress, or if the store security makes a citizen’s arrest, the police have two options. One option is to make an arrest in the field and issue a notice to appear in court. The other option is to spend hours booking the suspect into jail, after which the suspect will be released with a notice to appear in court. There is no room in L.A. County jail to hold people arrested on misdemeanors because the jail is now housing convicted felons under AB 109. If the suspect is convicted and sentenced to jail, he or she is still unlikely to serve any time. At present, a person sentenced to 180 days in L.A. County jail will be immediately released. These are not opinions, these are facts.
Other “highlights” of Rodriguez’s screed include: (1) touting a debunked study claiming crime in California decreased statewide, even though those figures were conjured up by excluding Los Angeles County, home of 1 in 4 Californians; (2) thanking Prop 47 for freeing up jail space, apparently not realizing he has just verified that Prop 47 has made many crimes inconsequential misdemeanors for which no time will be served; and (3) asserting police spend “much of their time arresting drug offenders,” despite the well-documented fact that drug arrests have plummeted in Los Angeles County and across the state since passage of Prop 47.
Opinion writers, are, of course, entitled to hold opinions and to write about those opinions. We, in law enforcement, do not have that self-indulgent luxury. As Joe Friday said, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
In my next article I will explore how property crimes are very likely being underreported.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.