The realignment program has been praised by the California governor but disparaged by some key figures in law enforcement. Ten months after it took effect, that program, which aimed to make significant changes to California’s incarceration system, still faces scrutiny in Long Beach and Signal Hill.
The realignment program under legislation AB 109 that has been criticized by some law-enforcement officials, and especially by both the Long Beach prosecutor and the Los Angeles district attorney, has been in effect since Oct. 1, 2011. The legislation is complicated, but one of its aims is to reduce the state prison population.
Long Beach City Prosecutor Douglas Haubert confirmed in a written statement Wednesday that if a person is convicted of what state lawmakers call “non-violent,” “non-serious” and “non-sex” offenses and is sentenced on or after that Oct. 1 cut-off, he or she shall serve the time in the county jail system, instead of the state prison system. He also noted that not all sentences involve incarceration, but when incarceration is imposed in these types of offenses, the offender would go to county.
There have been grave predictions by critics of AB 109 that crime rates would increase. So far, 10 months after AB 109 was implemented, it’s difficult to quantify just how much Long Beach and Signal Hill crime is directly affected by realignment.
Crime statistics for the City of Long Beach for the first half of 2012 revealed an overall increase in violent and property crimes when compared to the first half of 2011. For the first half of 2012, violent crimes are up 3.1 percent or 42 crimes, according to a July memo to the Long Beach City Council from Police Chief Jim McDonnell. Crimes in this category include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The report noted that property crimes are also up by 11.9 percent, or 749 crimes. Property crimes in this category include residential burglary, garage burglary, petty theft and grand theft auto.
Signal Hill’s crime statistics are very different than those of Long Beach. The rates of crimes against property have slightly increased in Signal Hill, according to a report that Langston presented to the Council last week. From January to May 2011, about 167 property-related crimes were reported by Signal Hill. For that same five-month time period in 2012, about 192 property-related crimes were reported. Violent crimes are down for 2012, Langston said.
For Long Beach, Haubert says that realignment came at a time when his staff and resources were already severely reduced. The city prosecutor said that four years ago, there were 21 prosecutors on his staff, and now there are only 14. His department has had to “target their priorities,” he said. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Haubert explained that this would mean that the focus would be on gangs.
“My office is focusing on the worst offenders, particularly those who are in gangs and the gang leaders,” Haubert said. “Our office has been using gang injunctions to focus on the gang problem because, according to FBI statistics across the country, about half of all violent crimes are gang-related, and in some communities it’s as high as 90 percent of all violent crimes [that] are gang-related. In Long Beach, I believe the vast majority of violent crimes are gang-related, and so focusing on the small population of gang members is the most efficient way to direct my attention when resources are so small.”
He has criticized AB 109 and particularly attacked the timing of the plan, stating that Long Beach has made great strides to reduce crime since the 1980s and 1990s.
“The crime rate has dropped every decade and has essentially dropped to an all-time low in 2010. So this is kind of a retreat on the gains that we’ve made over the years,” Haubert said. “Long Beach has become a much safer place to live, but the last two years, we’ve lost a lot of the traction on getting a hold of our crime problem.”
In addition to the city prosecutor’s focus on gangs, there are some new innovations in law enforcement locally. One was announced this week by the Long Beach Police Department. In a media statement, the department released some details of the City’s program called Long Beach Common Operating Picture (LBCOP). According to the statement, the LBCOP uses both existing law-enforcement data and video camera feeds obtained from business corridors, parks, beaches and other locations. The department explained in its release that the data is combined to give officers specific background information on calls. (See story on page 5.)
In his report to the Signal Hill Council on Aug. 6, Police Chief Michael Langston offered his analysis of realignment and its effect on the city his department covers.
“As your chief of police, I can’t say with any good conscience right now that there has been a real impact related to the realignment because we’ve always arrested people that were on parole and probation, and we’re still doing that,” Langston told the Council last week.
Langston emphasized to the Council the importance of crime prevention, particularly as it relates to property crimes.
Langston explained in a follow-up interview last Wednesday that one of the primary concerns with realignment was that the recidivism rate has usually been “relatively high” for parolees who have gone to state prison. He said that his department has regularly arrested people who have been on felony probation in the court system and people who have violated their parole.
“These people have always been in the public, and we’ve always arrested them,” Langston said Wednesday. “And so right now at this point in time, the changes relative to realignment aren’t fully realized here in Signal Hill…Enough time hasn’t passed, and there’s not enough data to determine whether realignment has specifically caused an impact here in Signal Hill.”
In light of concerns that the Los Angeles County jails are overcrowded, Langston was asked about the “pay-to-stay” programs that some cities have embraced in the past. These pay-to-stay programs allow offenders who are sentenced to serve time in the county jail to choose an alternative to the county jail system. They could pay a fee to serve their time in the city jail system. Langston said that the City is not currently considering the possibility of pay-to-stay programs. The police chief said the entire system has changed and described how some offenders who are sentenced to serve time in the county jail are released after a short time, sometimes just hours later.
“The demand is just not there anymore,” Langston said.
Media inquiries into whether or not Long Beach participates in any kind of pay-to-stay program had not been answered by press time.