CITYWIDE — Santa Monica police officers have made more than 200 arrests of felons who have been released to probation instead of parole since a state law went into effect in 2011, records show.
The release to probation of felons classified as non-violent or non-serious offenders has forced the Santa Monica Police Department to keep tabs on 43 people who have registered Santa Monica as their last place of residence, said SMPD Lt. Richard Lewis.
“If they’re not in jails, they’re out in the streets,” Lewis said. “They come and visit Santa Monica like every other person.”
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, also called the Public Safety Realignment Act, which moved nonviolent and nonserious inmates from state prisons into county jails with the offenders becoming the responsibility of local law enforcement agencies. The bill was Brown’s response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prison overcrowding is a violation of inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights protecting them from cruel and unusual punishment. The judges ruled that overcrowding was the cause of inmates’ inadequate medical and mental health care.
Brown is still struggling to reach the reduction goals and said earlier this year that the state would be unable to fully meet the court’s order. He has instead proposed a series of measures with the goal of being within 2,570 inmates of the required 137.5 percent maximum capacity, which include sending more inmates to firefighting camp, housing state inmates out of state, medical parole, and leasing private prisons.
Realignment implemented a divided post release supervision policy for inmates released from California prisons. Inmates were either released to parole supervision by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) or post-release community supervision (PRCS) by their county of last legal residence.
PRCS is county probation, said Dana Simas, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Offenders who are under PRCS tend to be nonviolent, nonserious, non-sexual offenders, she said. PRCS is a term used under the law to determine who would be monitoring the inmates after the release.
She said offenders serve their full-term in state prison and in the process before, they would all go to parole. She said if they’re serving a term for a nonviolent, nonserious, non-sexual offense, then they report to county probation to serve their post release monitoring.
“Before, all of them served on parole,” Simas said. “Only difference is who monitors them. It only affects them by who monitors them after they serve their time.”
The Los Angeles Police Department is feeling the pressure in keeping tabs on thousands of felons living in Los Angles after their early release from prison. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, wrote in its blog this summer “that the department has had to assign up to 170 full-time officers to keep tabs on some 5,400 felons living in Los Angeles.”
The union estimated that $18 million of the LAPD budget will be spent this fiscal year on those officers. The union claims the LAPD has arrested 57 percent of these felons on suspicion of committing new crimes or for probation violations.
The SMPD hasn’t shifted resources like the LAPD, but its resources are being used to monitor the 43 PRCS subjects and doing compliance checks, Lewis said. A lot of the PRCS subjects are on probation, so detectives go out and do provision checks on them.
“We document everything,” he said. “There have been people released in PRCS who have had violent crimes in their past.”
Simas said police departments aren’t encountering “a new kind of offender.”
“The thing is they’d be on parole anyway,” Simas said. “If you have a serious, violent or sex crime in your past and you commit a new crime, you come to state prison.”
Property crime in Santa Monica is up, but the department is still tracking numbers on whether that’s related to PRCS or AB 109, Lewis said.
Matthew Rice, spokesperson for the Police Officers’ Association, the union that represents the rank and file, said the police department is the “hand that catches the criminal.”
“People need to realize if they [criminals] are out, that’s what they do for their livelihood,” Rice said. “They commit crimes and steal things, that’s how they earn their money.”